More Canadians are expected to leave their passports at home this summer and hit the road in Canada as the weak loonie and low gas prices prompt a deeper exploration of their own country.
Canada's major tourism destinations are expecting a banner year as Canadians pursue staycations and more travellers from the U.S. and abroad visit the Great White North.
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The Banff-Lake Louise area in Alberta is one of the country's most popular destinations, attracting nearly four million visitors a year. Following a 20 per cent increase last year, Parks Canada is anticipating a seven per cent hike in visits this year, including during the busy summer season.
"We've seen it since the dollar took its southern route," said Nancy Dadalt of Banff-Lake Louise Tourism. "I think the dollar has impacted Canadians wanting to stay closer to home."
Niagara Falls, Cape Breton, Old Quebec City and Whistler make the list of top Canadian destinations each year. But there are other options, from large annual events like the Calgary Stampede to quaint small towns and tranquil lakes.
Some destinations may get birthday boosts. Toronto's CN Tower is 40 years old, and the Toronto Blue Jays are playing their 40th season.
About 55 per cent of Canadians who are planning vacations this summer intend to explore Canada, up nearly seven points from a survey conducted last year, said the Conference Board of Canada.
Most will take road trips, said associate director Greg Hermus.
Ontario is the top destination region, followed by Quebec and British Columbia.
Prairies see strongest interest
Interest in domestic vacations is strongest in the Prairies and lowest in Ontario. Faced with a sluggish economy, fewer Albertans said they plan to take a summer vacation.
Overall, 63 per cent of respondents said the depreciation of the Canadian dollar makes them less likely to travel to the U.S., while almost 58 per cent said the dollar makes them more likely to vacation within Canada.
CAA Quebec says travellers are sensitive about the dollar and adjusting their vacation plans. Many are planning to spend less or take shorter vacations, according to a recent survey. The exception are millennials, with 23 per cent aged 18 to 24 saying they will go away for at least a month.
A 6.2 per cent increase in consumer spending in Canada and 17.5 per cent increase in spending in Canada on credit cards issued in other countries in the first quarter is expected to continue into the summer, said Moneris, which processes credit and debit card transactions.
"We've seen consistent increases in spending on things like hotels, restaurants, entertainment and attractions this year, and expect that trend to continue over the busy summer tourism season," said chief product officer Rob Cameron.
Roadside attractions popular
Mira van Bodegom, operator of a website devoted to quirky roadside attractions, says Canadians like her love to visit roadside diversions such as a giant orange, oversized currency, jumbo elephants, a monster Easter egg and the world's largest axe, fiddle, tin soldier and curling rock.
"It's kind of the journey on the way; you never know what else you'll see on the way," she said.
Van Bodegom and her husband have planned vacations around these stops, visiting nearly 200 in Ontario and Alberta in the past 14 years. There are more than 1,500 attractions on the website they recently took over, with followers suggesting new ones to add.
Those looking for far-flung vacations can travel to the Far North for land-based excursions and Arctic cruises.
"We are going into the summer season and the Arctic is spectacular. It's just starting to melt and explode in colour," said MaryBeth McKenzie of tour operator Arctic Kingdom.
With tours costing at least US$10,000 plus airfare, the trips predominantly attract the well-heeled and older customers looking to check a dream off their bucket list, she said.
The Crystal Serenity, the largest cruise ship to transit the Northwest Passage, will make its maiden voyage this summer carrying more than 1,700 passengers and crew. The trip quickly sold out even though berths started at US$20,000.
McKenzie said the Arctic, regarded as the Galapagos of the North, attracts visitors from around the world seeking encounters with underwater creatures, polar bears and icebergs as well as cultural interactions with Inuit.
While interest is up, she said people are slower to commit this year because of the weak global economy and the switch to pricing trips in U.S. dollars.
"For Canadians, it can be challenging when you're having to purchase something in your own country in a foreign currency," she added.
Visit www.roadsideattractions.ca for lists of sights to see across Canada.
Check out www.arctickingdom.com/ for details on Arctic trips.