Corp Comm Connects

Sinking loonie boosts York Region's tourism
Feb. 12, 2016
By Lisa Queen

York Region’s tourism hotspots are thanking a Canadian loonie wavering in the 70-cent U.S. range for a surge in business.

“The lower Canadian dollar is definitely help for us in the tourism business,” said Hugh Sibbald, general manager of The Briars Resort and Spa on Lake Simcoe just east of Jackson’s Point in Georgina.

The resort is starting to take more summer bookings from Americans looking for couples, family and family reunion getaways, he said.

Canadians tend to book their summer vacations last minute, but already some are calling to say they will be shying away from U.S. destinations this summer and are scouting out prices for staycation spots, Sibbald said.

Meanwhile, despite the lack of winter weather, The Briars, which traditionally offers activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sleigh rides, ice fishing and nature walks in the snow, has seen visits this season from residents of the Greater Toronto Area, who would normally have headed south.

“It fills my heart with joy,” Sibbald laughed.

“It (the low Canadian dollar) is good news because when you think about tourism, we’re essentially an exporter, an exporter of business to the States. Like the manufacturing (industry), when the dollar goes down, we tend to get more people coming up this way. And, of course, we get more Canadians staying here and we’re also beginning to see that, as well.”

Although Canada’s Wonderland in Vaughan doesn’t open until May 1 on weekends and daily beginning the Victoria Day weekend, the low loonie has the amusement park looking forward to a busy season, Dave Phillips, vice-president of marketing and sales, said.

The majority of the park’s visitors come from the GTA, but Wonderland will be boosting its efforts this year to entice U.S. visitors north, he said.

“For 2016, we’re actually increasing our social and digital plays on a lot of the U.S. border cities from New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan. We usually do speak to those markets, but we’re certainly enhancing our presence and it’s strictly because of the U.S. dollar and the exchange rate,” he said.

“We typically don’t advertise a lot in the U.S. because we have such a great market in Toronto and Ontario, but because of the U.S. dollar and they can get $1.30, $1.35 on the (Canadian) dollar, it goes a lot further (here).”

Wonderland, which attracts about three million visitors a year, also expects to see more Canadians who are spending their vacation cash close to home,

Phillips said.

U.S. visits to Canada and Ontario have seen a “measured increase” over the last year, spawned in part by the low Canadian dollar and cheap gas prices, Chuck Thibeault, executive director of Markham-based Central Counties Tourism, said.

Central Counties is a provincially funded, non-profit organization supporting and promoting tourism in York Region, Durham Region and the Headwaters tourism region, which includes Caledon and Orangeville.

Central Counties, York Region and other stakeholders plan on capitalizing on favourable conditions to entice Americans in border states north to discover the tourism attractions we have to offer, Thibeault said.

“York Region has an incredible amount of attractions, accommodations and events that we are actively partnering with to develop compelling itineraries and packages that will motivate our U.S. neighbours to visit,” he said in an email.

“We are confident that the region will see increase visitation and spending this summer and we’re going to do our best to keep the momentum going despite the ups and downs of our dollar. After all, we are not a cheap discount destination; we are a world class destination of choice and should be seen as such.”

Central Counties also believes there will be an increase in Ontario residents looking for more to do at home this year, Thibeault said.

“It’s a win-win situation,” he said.

Although Wonderland and the renowned McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg draw visitors from far and wide, York Region doesn’t have the same number of iconic tourism attractions as Toronto and Niagara, the region’s director of economic strategy, Doug Lindeblom, said.

As a result, the majority of the region’s tourists are “friends and family” from the GTA and southern Ontario, who are visiting festivals, Lake Simcoe and our trail system, he said.

Low gas prices could have an even bigger impact than the low Canadian dollar in drawing a broader audience from the domestic market this year, Lindeblom said.