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Russell Wangersky: Let’s turn U.S. loss into Atlantic Canadian gain

Can the U.S. "Trump Slump" bump local tourism?
Can the U.S. "Trump Slump" bump local tourism?

It would be polite to say provincial governments don’t turn often on a dime. It would probably be more accurate to say that while they all say they value innovation, they’re loathe to jump into anything that someone else isn’t already doing.

Russell Wangersky

But there’s an opportunity looming.

And we should seize it.

During the U.S. election, Cape Breton managed to generate a healthy dash of notoriety, when it told Americans uncomfortable with a presidential win by Donald Trump that they were welcome on the island. They parlayed that into an expected “Trump bump” in tourism in 2016, and an anticipated hike this year. It’s not all American tourists; it’s fair to say it’s also people looking to avoid the United States in their vacation plans.

But, couple the bump with a slump, and there could be opportunities all over Eastern Canada.

The “Trump Slump” is the name the travel industry has given to the precipitous fall in interest in travel to the United States following President Trump’s signing of an executive order, among other things, banning travellers from seven Muslim countries.

The travel press was the first to sound the alarm, with Travel Weekly pointing out a 6.8 per cent decline in foreign tourism into the U.S. since the first executive order was signed. The number of people searching flights into the U.S. from other international locations dropped by 17 per cent, according to Frommers.com.

Global Business Travel Associates pointed out a US$185-million decline in business travel into the U.S. in just the first week after the executive order was signed.

In Massachusetts, delightfully close to the Atlantic region, tourism operators are rattled by the fact that new European polling shows that 46 per cent of Germans who previously had wanted to visit the U.S. had changed their minds since Trump’s election.

Some are warning that the losses to the U.S. travel industry and that country’s economy could top US$3 billion this year alone.

And that’s even though the executive order is currently in court limbo, and a newly promised executive order — designed to do the exact same thing without riling the courts — hasn’t been signed yet.

Every day, there’s more news of travel difficulties in the U.S., even without a travel ban legally in place: Muhammad Ali Jr. was hassled by border officials over his name and religion; an Iranian director didn’t attend the Academy Awards, where his documentary won an Oscar, because of travel difficulties; a French historian was stopped in Houston and threatened with deportation as he tried to reach a conference where he was scheduled to speak.

With all that doubt, it’s not surprising that people are looking elsewhere.

The message, pretty clearly, is that you might not get where you want to go in the U.S., and even if you do, you may end up with an unwelcome hassle along with way.

Therein lies an opportunity to be the silver lining to the United States’ travel cloud.

Let’s offer the opportunity: show how we’re different, capitalize on the fact that we are welcoming while the U.S. seems focused on closing doors, rather than opening arms. Target Europe and Britain. Highlight that we’d like to say “hello” while the U.S. is saying “goodbye.”

Face it: US$3 billion is a heck of a pot of change, money that all four Atlantic provinces could use a share of.

We should be ramping up our efforts to get people here — even working together — to make people feel welcome, and teach them all about a new vacation destination.

And maybe keep them coming back.

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@tc.tc — Twitter: @Wangersky.

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