March Break: Is the low loonie a boon for Canadian tourism industry?

As the loonie stays firmly rooted below 75 cents U.S., the Canadian tourism industry is hoping to cash in on travellers choosing to stay in the country for March Break, rather than face the exchange-rate pain of heading south.

The answer may depend on how badly people want to escape winter

The Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation hopes promotional photos like this one — described by a public relations representative as a 'cozy log cabin alternative to a beach cabana' — will entice people to stay closer to home for March Break. (Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation)

As the loonie stays firmly rooted below 75 cents U.S., the Canadian tourism industry is hoping to cash in on travellers choosing to stay in the country for March Break, rather than face the exchange-rate pain of heading south.    

"Canadians more and more are choosing to stay home," said Marsha Walden, CEO of Destination British Columbia.

Hotels in Victoria and some of B.C.s big ski resorts were already "way ahead" of where they were at the same time last year for March Break reservations, she said.  

Marsha Walden, head of Destination British Columbia, says some hotels and ski resorts are reporting they are 'way ahead' in March Break bookings compared with last year. (Destination British Columbia)

Walden expects that tourism during the break will follow the overall trend the province saw in 2015, when travel from British Columbia to the U.S. decreased 21 per cent compared with the previous year.

"That has a big impact on our domestic tourism," Walden said. "We already know that our March Break is going to be really, really strong."

British Columbia also has good weather on its side this year, she said. 

"Spring has sprung, but it's still winter on the mountains, so you get the best of both worlds."

'Still want to go to the sun'

But weather conditions are different on the East Coast, where many people are still booking trips south despite the low Canadian dollar, according to CAA Travel.  

"They still want to go to the sun," said Gary Howard, CAA's spokesman in Atlantic Canada.

Although many people have said the low loonie would discourage them from heading south for March Break, often they change their mind when winter comes, says Gary Howard, spokesman for CAA Travel in Atlantic Canada. (Gary Howard/Twitter)

A lot of people say they won't go south because of the low loonie, he said. But then, "Winter comes to Canada and then we change our mind[s]."

Rather than forgoing sunny vacations, people are "stretching that dollar," Howard said. Families make financial adjustments such as going away for five days instead of a week, choosing moderately priced resorts over deluxe accommodations, or skipping visits to outlet malls.    

"Vacation time when spent with family becomes more and more precious with ... busy schedules and so on," Howard said. "People don't like spending ... the extra money for the [dollar] exchange, but they're still going to go on vacation."

March Break reservations for vacations closer to home in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland are "OK" this year, he said. Reservations for local resorts are up but "not going through the roof."

"I think it's an alternative for people," he said. "But, you know, you keep coming back to the cold and the winter and people are still going to go [away]."

'Embrace winter'

In Ontario, tourism officials are promoting winter fun as another reason for people to stay in the province during March Break rather than travelling south.  

'There's snow to be had in spades' in northern Ontario, says Lorrie Pella of the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation. ( Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation)

"[For] those who love to embrace winter … it's always a busy time," said Lorrie Pella, vice-president of visitor engagement and northern tourism for the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation. 

Pella said the agency is trying to let outdoor enthusiasts know that "there's snow to be had in spades in the north," despite less than optimal snow conditions in southern Ontario this year.

According to Statistics Canada data published on the Tourism Ontario website, travel from Ontario to the U.S. dropped by 14 per cent in 2015. Pella believes the plunging Canadian dollar contributed to that trend and will lead to more people staying in the province for March Break this year.

In Quebec, weather is "the main factor" influencing travel decisions, according to Isabelle Toulouse, spokeswoman for Global Réservation, an online booking centre for hotels, condos and lodges in the province. 

In an email, Toulouse said she didn't see much change in March Break tourism bookings within Quebec this year, but noted many people wait until one or two days before their vacations to book, when they have a better sense of the weather forecast.       

"Quebecers ... reserve at the last minute," she said. 


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