The Americans are coming

A lower Canadian dollar is raising hopes for a strong tourism season on Haida Gwaii.

A lower Canadian dollar is raising hopes for a strong tourism season on Haida Gwaii.

Although the Canadian loonie has risen somewhat lately, trading at up to 74 cents U.S. last week after diving to 71-cent low in January, it is a far cry from 2007 high of $1.08 U.S. and from 2010 when the loonie was on par with the U.S. greenback.

The Canadian dollar is expected to remain low enough this year to make B.C. holidays a good deal for American travellers and Canadians choosing ‘staycations.’

“We’re a pretty affordable trip now, all things considered,” Kevin Boothroyd, a spokesperson for Pacific Coastal Airlines, said.

The airline is already seeing an uptick in group bookings, said Boothroyd, which typically signals a rise in leisure travel.

“You’re going to see more Americans coming up,” he said.

“Certainly some of the big winners are going to be adventure tourism: hunting, fishing, kayaking.”

Statistics Canada recently reported that U.S. trips to Canada saw a boost of 8.5 per cent in December compared with last year.

Over the same period, Canadian trips to the U.S. dropped off sharply by  20 per cent.

In Masset, Fritz Engelhard of Engelhard’s Oceanview Lodge said the season is looking good so far.

“It’s busier so far this year than last year, and last year was a good year,” he said.

“We’ve got lots of bookings in already — May and June is very strong.”

Others told the Observer it’s too early to read the tourist tea leaves, or cautioned that a low Canadian dollar doesn’t always mean more Americans make it up to Haida Gwaii.

“It’s only February,” said Bonnie Fraser, who together with her husband has run Gerry’s Fishing Charters for the last 12 years.

“Usually it’s March and April when new groups book,” Fraser added, noting that Gerry’s is a small mom-and-pop outfit with a lot of regulars who tend to book their favourite times early.

“With the economy the way it is too, there’s a lot of people who can’t book too far in advance,” she said, speaking from Grand Prairie, Alberta, where the collapse of the oil patch is growing clear.

“It’s really slow over here.”

Morey Maslak is acting general manager for Westcoast Resorts, a HaiCo company with high-end sport fishing lodges in Englefield Bay and Hippa Island, as well as at Milbanke Sound in traditional Heiltsuk territory.

Speaking with the Iinaasdll, HaiCo’s quarterly newsletter, Maslak said this year’s 13 per cent drop in resort bookings is certainly related to what is happening in Canada’s oil and gas sector.

“People working in those industries just aren’t allocating money to these kinds of trips, or spending money to entertain their customers with the drop in oil prices that we’re seeing,” he said.

Other island businesses may be less affected by the Alberta downturn.

A visitors’ exit survey done last July by Parks Canada and the Misty Isles Economic Development Society found that about 12 per cent of respondents came from the U.S. — more than those from Alberta.

The two-week survey also found that sightseeing, hiking, and wildlife sightings topped the list of visitors’ outdoor activities, and three-fifths of all visitors toured the Haida Heritage Centre at Kay Llnagaay.