In effect the Detroit News is telling people NOT to come to Windsor. You'd think that the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and Ambassador Bridge along with the City ought to be working together to get people to come over here and to worry about who gets the specific customer later. After all, if the pie gets bigger, then both can get more. Unfortunately, that is NOT how our Mayor/Chair of the WTC/CEO of the new Tunnel Corp thinks.
Good thing that the story did not encourage us in Windsor to go over for all of the bargains in Detroit since our dollar is so high. It could become "PACE" all over again.
Retailers are lucky the Star is not telling us about this!
- Day trips to Canada plunge to new low
Security hassles, gas prices, exchange rate deter U.S. tourists from crossing the border.
Andy Henion / The Detroit News
The pain of a waning U.S. client base goes beyond Windsor's bars to the casino, hotels and eateries, says the local tourism office.
WINDSOR -- Americans are taking fewer day trips to Canada than at any time in living memory, a major blow to border cities like Windsor that rely on tourists for their prosperity.
Officials say a "perfect storm" of economic and social factors is fueling the downswing, including an unfavorable exchange rate, high gas prices, a year-old smoking ban at public buildings in Ontario and, perhaps most of all, border security issues.
Tony O'Rourke of Detroit, for one, would love to dine in one of the city's renowned Italian restaurants, enjoy Point Pelee's sandy beaches or simply grab a pizza and beer with friends.
Yet the social-services case manager hasn't made the trip in several years because of hassles at the border. U.S. customs agents would routinely search his car for up to 40 minutes, said O'Rourke, a 41-year-old Latino who believes he was singled out because he looks Middle Eastern.
"It's all about comfort level," he said. "If I have other options for places to go and things to do, I'm going to choose the path of least resistance."
The number of U.S. citizens driving to Canada for the day has dropped steadily each year for the past seven, hitting a record low of 13.7 million last year, according to Canadian government data for all U.S.-Canada crossings. The peak was 27.3 million in 1999.
The downswing worsened during the first part of this year. The 3.2 million day-trippers from January through April -- the latest available data -- is the lowest tally for any four-month period since Canada started tracking the flow in 1972.
The dearth of American visitors is a major blow to Windsor's $515 million-a-year tourism industry. More than 4 million of the city's 5 million yearly visitors are U.S. citizens -- most of them from Michigan, officials said.
"It's as simple as saying that not enough people are filling seats in restaurants, they're not filling the hotel rooms and they're not enjoying the nightlife here like they once did," said Gordon Orr, managing director of the Convention & Visitors Bureau of Windsor, Essex County & Pelee Island.
"We're definitely feeling it," said Chris Ryan, owner of Patrick O'Ryan's Irish pub in downtown Windsor. Business is down nearly 10 percent over last year at this time, but Ryan considers himself "one of the lucky ones."
"Some are down 30 to 60 percent," he said.
Border issues are key
Most officials agree the trend is due in large part to a misconception of unbridled border congestion and confusion about the documentation needed to get across.
The long lines at security checkpoints in the months following September 11 have largely disappeared, although the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel still back up at times. And those motorists singled out for a vehicle search, like O'Rourke, can expect longer waits.
Further, a passport is not needed to drive across the U.S-Canada border, as many believe. A driver's license and birth certificate will suffice, though the Bush administration plans to start requiring a passport in the summer of 2008.
Partying in Windsor -- where the drinking age is 19 -- is a rite of passage for many U.S. citizens such as Megan Single of Macomb, who recently celebrated her 19th birthday in the city. But if that means paying $100 for a passport in the future, she said, it may not be worth it.
"Why would you waste all that money when you only come over here once in a while?" said Single, who thinks a birth certificate and license should remain sufficient.
But several other factors are also helping keep Americans home, officials say. They include:
Metro Detroit's soaring unemployment rate -- it was 7.2 percent in May, well above the national rate of 4.5 percent -- which is fueled largely by the automotive industry's decline.
An unfavorable exchange rate. The U.S. dollar is worth about $1.05 in Canada, compared with $1.53 five years ago.
Gas prices that hover well above the $3-a-gallon mark.
A smoking ban at all public buildings and workplaces in Ontario that took effect June 1, 2006.
The entrenchment of Detroit's casinos -- which have cut into Casino Windsor's client base.
"With all these factors, it's being called the perfect storm," said Keith Andrews, vice president of corporate affairs at Casino Windsor, the city's biggest attraction.
Flow to U.S. still strong
Casino business is down 20 percent to 25 percent from last year, but officials hope a $400 million renovation and expansion, slated for completion early next year, will help reverse that. The casino also will change its name to Caesars Windsor.
The 133-room Travelodge in Windsor is boosting marketing efforts on a smaller scale by offering a room deal that includes free breakfast and a $10 gas coupon. The hotel, which relies heavily on U.S. customers, is filling only about 50 percent of its rooms, said Angela Santin, general manager.
"That number is not making us profitable," she said.
Meanwhile, Canadians continue visiting the United States in relatively strong numbers. Nearly 23.5 million day-trippers came here in 2006, up 9 percent from 2004. And although January-April traffic was down 4 percent from the same period in 2006, it was still higher than the first four months of both 2004 and 2005.
Hart Hodges, a Western Washington University professor who studies border issues, said Canadians historically have "put up with more" at the border to take advantage of large retailers in the United States. U.S. citizens, on the other hand, are more apt to skip the trip when the negative factors pile up.
"At some point, you would expect Americans to say, 'Why bother?' " Hodges said.
But keeping a steady flow of trade -- and tourists -- between the two countries is vital, said Sarah Hubbard of the Detroit Regional Chamber.
"Strategically, it's in the best interest of our region and the U.S. to maintain a good relationship with Canada given their position flanking our country and as our largest trading partner," Hubbard said. "Americans may think they don't really need Canada, but I think they'd be surprised if that piece of our economy disappeared."