Canadians cross border in record numbers

We’re ‘loving Pure Michigan’

By Claire Brownell, The Windsor Star

Customs officers at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge were busy this summer, with Canadians crossing the border in record numbers in June.

“I’m hearing more about international travel than ever this year,” said Dave Lorenz, a spokesman for the travel and tourism organization Pure Michigan.

“I’m hearing a lot of great buzz out there from my colleagues, just telling me Canadians are coming, they’re loving Pure Michigan, they’re hearing and seeing our message and they’re coming to experience what we have to offer.”

According to Statistics Canada, travel across the border in both directions increased in June, but it was Canadian overnight trips to the U.S. that broke records. Canadians made 1.9 million overnight visits to the U.S. that month, the highest number since the government agency started keeping records in 1972.

In a report released in May, the Bank of Montreal predicted a cross-border stampede after the Conservative government announced increases to the value of goods Canadians are allowed to bring back from the U.S. without paying taxes.

The changes took effect June 1 and the record-breaking rush across the border followed.

Lorenz said it’s hard to say how much of an effect the duty-free limit change had, but it’s certainly not the only reason for all the Ontario licence plates on Michigan highways.

This spring and summer season is set to break records for heat as well as for cross-border travel, enticing more people to spend time and money on leisure activities, he said.

And those leisure activities are a lot less expensive in Michigan, with the state’s economic misfortunes spelling lower prices for tourists.

“Michigan, for a lot of reasons, has great value,” Lorenz said.

“Our economy hasn’t been as healthy as we would like it to be. So you have to price your services and goods and experiences to meet the demand and to be able to lure people here.”

Erin Ernst, a spokeswoman for the Boyne trio of resort properties, estimated this summer saw five or six per cent more visitors than last year.

“I would definitely say we are up with visits throughout the summer,” she said.

“The Canadian market has always been a market of ours, specifically for golf and snow sports.”

The border traffic wasn’t all one way, though. Americans made one million overnight trips to Canada in June as well, an increase of 1.1 per cent over May.

Lynnette Bain, the vice-president of tourism, programs and development for Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island, said increases in American visits to the region were most noticeable during events to celebrate the War of 1812 bicentennial.

She said it’s been a challenge to attract Americans because of tighter border security and the passport requirement, but the organization still targets the U.S. with about a quarter of its marketing budget.

The increased duty-free limit makes it more difficult to convince Canadians to spend their travel dollars locally, she said.

“It’s just something else that provides an obstacle in keeping people from Ontario travelling within the province.”

Lorenz said tourists often visit both sides of the border when they come to the region and attracting more of them is good for both Michigan and Ontario.

“As much as we’re thrilled that Canadians are coming to Michigan, I can tell you there are a lot of Michiganders coming into Canada as well,” Lorenz said.

“I wouldn’t be too concerned that you’re losing a lot of business from Canada coming into Michigan, because Michigan’s giving a lot of business back.”