A million years ago (a few days before we moved), Alan With One L sent me a story from The Economist about the changing habits of both Canadians and Americans when it comes to visiting the other. Turns out it was a very good story, and I'm glad I kept it in my inbox all these weeks. (Thanks Alan! Better late than never, eh?)
Story here, but it may not be accessible, so I've copied it below.
The unfriendly borderOne question. American tourists are staying away from Canada because Canada recognizes same-sex marriages?? I would think that loss would be far offset by gay Americans - and liberal Americans in general - wishing to support a country with egalitarian principles. Maybe the reason Americans aren't visiting Canada as much can be summed up in two words: Fox News. After all, "Soviet Canuckistan" sounds like a pretty scary place.
Aug 25th 2005 | OTTAWA
A withering of people-to-people contacts augurs ill for a historic friendship
Travel across the border between Canada and the United States long followed a predictable pattern. When the Canadian dollar went up, shoppers would flood south and a few budget-conscious American tourists would forgo their vacation among the moose, mountains and Mounties. There was even a rough rule of thumb: for every 10% appreciation of the loonie (as Canadians call their currency) against the greenback, there would be a 13% increase in the number of Canadians going south and a 3% decrease in the number of Americans heading north.
Recently this pattern has broken down. In the past two years, as the loonie soared from 72 cents to its current level of 83 cents to the American dollar, the number of cross-border shoppers has barely budged (see chart). Meanwhile, the number of Americans heading north has dropped 22% since 1999 — a far bigger decrease than the rule of thumb would indicate.
Contrast this with the last big loonie appreciation, in 1991. In that year, Canadians made almost 60m day trips across the border (or two for every man, woman and child). They went for cheaper groceries and petrol, and a bigger variety of products than they had back home. Spurring them on, too, was a newly imposed value-added tax. Crossing the border was easy, with only a driver's licence, birth certificate, or even a friendly wave needed to pass through some customs posts. In 2004, by contrast, just 21.4m day trips (only two for every three Canadians) were made, according to Statistics Canada.
Behind these numbers lie several small things — and one big thing which points to a deeper change in relations between Canada and the United States. The small factors, which apply on both sides of the border, include rising petrol prices and higher houses prices, which have cut spending on leisure. Since 1991, many big American retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy, have opened stores in Canada. Others, such as J.C. Penney, target Canadian shoppers through their websites. The big factor is the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, which have had both physical and psychological effects.
Physically, the border is harder to cross. A recent report by the Coalition for Secure and Trade-Efficient Borders, a Canadian business group, identified 44 government agencies in the two countries that now have some jurisdiction over border issues. More means slower: eight of the top ten crossing-points are either bridges or tunnels (the busiest, between Windsor in Ontario, and Detroit in Michigan, features both). They have become bottlenecks, with long waits.
Tighter security parallels widening gaps in attitudes between Canadians and Americans. Despite a shared history and the world's biggest bilateral trading relationship, attention nowadays focuses on issues that divide the two countries: the war in Iraq, decriminalisation of marijuana, legalisation of gay marriages, and the recent ban on cattle exports after three cases of mad cow disease in Canada. This week, Canadians are fuming at a decision by George Bush's administration to ignore a ruling under the North American Free-Trade Agreement which found that countervailing duties imposed on Canadian softwood lumber in 2002 were unlawful. Few talk approvingly any more about the world's longest undefended border.
Canada abounds with scary tales about what the new American security regime can mean for the unwary. One such was Michel Jalbert of Pohenegamook, a village in Quebec. Mr Jalbert was on a hunting trip in October 2002 when he crossed 45 feet into Maine to visit a petrol station. Following longstanding local practice, he did not check in with the customs office further down the road. The Americans' Border Patrol arrested Mr Jalbert and charged him with being an illegal immigrant and possession of a firearm. He spent 35 days in jail before an official protest from the Canadian government caused Colin Powell, then America's secretary of state, to intervene.
What of American travellers to Canada? Two film stars, Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, made headlines recently when they bought a holiday home near Mount Tremblant, a ski resort in Quebec. But they are not following a trend. Americans are travelling abroad less, and Canada is no exception. Americans made almost 10m fewer trips to Canada in 2004 than they did in 2000. Hardest hit is Ontario; Americans made up 95% of visitors to the province. (Alberta and British Columbia rely more on Asian visitors and Quebec looks east to European tourists.) William Fatt, the boss of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, which manages a string of posh hotels in Canada as well as London's Savoy Hotel, said his group's profits would be lower this year because the strong loonie and border hassles were keeping American customers away.
The Ontario government is surveying potential American tourists to find out why they are staying away. Border issues were the main reason, but respondents also mentioned the SARS respiratory infection, which hit Canada in 2003, mad-cow disease, terrorism and the fact that Canada recognises homosexual marriages.
The latest survey contained two other findings that suggest many Canadians and Americans will not soon go back to their previous friendly habit of dropping in on each other. One is that America is phasing in a new requirement for its citizens travelling to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean to have passports. Since only 34% of Americans over the age of 18 have a passport (compared with 41% of Canadians), tourism officials north of the border fear that potential visitors will be deterred by the extra paperwork. More worryingly, respondents gave anti-Americanism among Canadians as the second most important reason they were inclined to stay at home. Greg Hermus, of the Canadian Tourism Research Institute, an industry body, says that Canadians have similar fears about American attitudes. "Both sides feel less welcome in the other country." The change in travel habits may be much more than a passing blip.