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Saturday, December 27, 2014
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Canadian Tourists still coming to NNY but no more than last year

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The attraction of lower prices, larger stores with more selections, fewer taxes and the strength of the loonie have drawn Canadians across the border to shop here.

But their numbers may have plateaued.

According to Thousand Islands International Tourism Council Director Gary S. DeYoung, Canadians are coming to Northern New York at the same rate as they had at this time last year.

“We’ve seen a significant increase over the past few years,” Mr. DeYoung said. “But the numbers from 2012 to 2013 have flattened out, possibly peaked.”

Travelers crossing the border from Canada via the Thousand Islands Bridge primarily have noted shopping hubs — such as the Salmon Run Mall in Watertown, Destiny USA mall in Syracuse and Waterloo Premium Outlets near the Finger Lakes — as their destinations. Mr. DeYoung said his agency makes note of inquiries made at the information center at the duty-free shop to see where people want to go in upstate New York.

“Canadians from Ontario started spending more money here around 2007,” Mr. DeYoung said.

He said a study concluded that people from Ontario spent $855.1 million in New York in 2006, and the total spending jumped to $1.431 billion in 2007.

Karla Woods, spokeswoman for the Salmon Run Mall, said Canadian customers are attracted to shopping in the region because there are fewer taxes on their purchases and their money can go a lot further.

“In Canada they don’t have the wider variety of big-box stores and businesses,” Ms. Woods said.

She said the mall welcomes a lot of tour buses and visitors throughout the year and the number of Canadian customers seems to remain consistent.

“Over the Canadian holidays or long weekends, we see a lot more customers. It’s hard to tell where everyone is spending their money unless we talk to each store individually,” Ms. Woods said. “Without the difference in the dollar or the loonie, I think it’s still ... worth it for them to shop here.”

The loonie has been roughly on par with the U.S. dollar for about the past six years. As of March 13, the Canadian loonie was worth $0.90 in American currency under the exchange rate.

Mr. DeYoung said the change in exchange rate doesn’t appear to have lowered Canadian tourism but he said the people who started coming to the Northern New York for shopping opportunities took notice of the beautiful lakefront attractions and towns.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in the past few years in Canadian visitors and in 2012 to 2013 the numbers have flattened. They seem to have plateaued,” Mr. DeYoung said. “Maybe the height of tourism has peaked.”

He said that unless the difference becomes greater than 10 cents, he doesn’t believe local businesses should worry about a decrease in tourism from Ontario.

“Now that people have come here on their way to the stores they’ve also become familiar with the lakefront towns, the castles, and now these places are on their minds when they think of where to go for a nice dinner or they think about going to a show at the Clayton Opera House,” Mr. DeYoung said. “Our communities have a lot to offer and now they’ve seen that,”

To exchange currency, Mr. DeYoung suggests people go to their banks before crossing the border, or their money can be exchanged at the duty-free shops at the border.

At Salmon Run, customers can go to the customer service office, which will exchange Canadian currency for an American Express gift card. Mall Marketing Director Karla Wood said the card can be used anywhere American Express is accepted, not just in the mall.

According to the Salmon Run Mall’s website, it charges a $2.95 fee per card in the amounts of $20 to $500.

In fact, banks are the preferred place to have currency exchanged, but Mr. DeYoung said the council always suggests visitors going to either side of the border exchange their money at the duty-free shops.

“We suggest if people don’t use the duty-free shops they can always use their debit cards at stores,” Mr. DeYoung said. “People can use banks, but on the weekends that isn’t always easy.”

The tourism office operates out of the welcome center at the duty-free shop at the border.

Mr. DeYoung said the exchange rate has inspired a new group of people to think of Northern New York as a destination location.

“More and more people consider taking trips to the lakefront now because they initially crossed the border for shopping,” Mr. DeYoung said.

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