O Canada!: Tourism surges north of the border

O Canada!: Tourism surges north of the border

Canada is suddenly enjoying a moment in the travel spotlight
as operators and suppliers report robust bookings for Canadian getaways in the
coming year.

Travel executives last week said there are two key reasons
for the surge: The country is celebrating its 150th anniversary of
confederation this year by, among other things, offering free admission to all
its national parks; and U.S. travelers are in a position to leverage a strong
U.S. dollar against a weaker loonie.

Ben Perlo, managing director of Toronto-based G Adventures,
said that in addition to anniversary celebrations and a strong exchange rate
for Americans, another major appeal of Canada “is the country’s perceived
security and natural beauty. While some American travelers may be hesitant
about booking European vacations right now, others are viewing the stable and
relatively insulated environment of Canada as one worth a new look.”

From summer 2015 to summer 2016, G Adventures reported that
the number of travelers to Canada grew nearly 40%, and the company hosted more
tourists in July and August last year than in any of the five previous summers,
a trend it sees continuing into 2017.

Consequently, the operator has added itineraries and
inventory in Canada for this year, including a Canadian Polar Bears Experience
for its National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures line.

“The country’s cool factor has also caught on among
hipster travelers in recent months,” Perlo said, observing that they “see
the youthful Canadian prime minister [Justin Trudeau] promoting all things
Canada in very playful, progressive and visible ways. It’s a combination that
makes America’s northern neighbor a real competitor for leisure adventure
travel in 2017.”

Last week, Canada topped the New York Times’ “52 Places
to Go in 2017” list, and Orbitz.com cited Canada as one of the
destinations on the rise in its predictions for the year of travel in 2017,
also released last week.

Orbitz reported that Montreal and Toronto have seen a recent
spike in tourism, with Montreal having experienced a 10% bump between January
and June last year, compared with the same prior-year period.

“American tourists are reportedly a large driver of the
surge and are flocking to Montreal for the favorable exchange rate and for a
taste of French culture without the trip overseas,” Orbitz said in a
release.

Canadian national parks are offering free admission this year in honor of the country’s 150th birthday. Pictured, Jasper National Park in Alberta. Photo Credit: G Adventures

The Globus family of brands reported that Canada overall is
trending very well for its Globus and Cosmos brands, with 2017 bookings to
Canada up more than 40% over 2016, which Vanessa Parrish, channel marketing
manager for Globus, described as an “amazing year.”

Collette spokeswoman Amelia Sugerman said, “One of the
reasons in particular that we love Canada is because of the wide array of
activities offered. Gorgeous landscapes, trains and winter sports are just some
of the experiences on tour that Collette offers, so couples and families alike
can find something that makes everyone happy.” Canada bookings are “coming
in strong right now,” she said.

Other hot spots: Iran, Iceland, Africa

Beyond Canada, tour operators are reporting that several
other less-traditional destinations are experiencing a boom in interest this
year, most notably Iran, which topped Abercrombie & Kent’s “Where to
Go in 2017” list.

“The definition of luxury travel is changing,”
A&K founder and CEO Geoffrey Kent, said in a news release about the list. “Our
guests are focused on finding unique experiences, rather than the mere physical
trappings of luxury. For 2017, they are looking for adventure and unique
cultural interactions in places that will change the way they look at the
world.”

A&K also included Brazil, Iceland, Kenya, the
Philippines and Australia on its 2017 hot list.

G Adventures reported that its U.S. sales to Iran have
doubled in the past year.

“We’re seeing unusual spikes in bookings to Israel and
Iran,” Perlo said, adding that bookings to Israel are on track to
quadruple this year, something the company believes could possibly be prompted
by the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War this year.

After a few trying years due to the Ebola outbreak and
terror threats, African safaris appear to be on the rise again as well, with
Globus reporting that its 2017 Africa bookings are up 144% over 2016 and on
pace for a record year compared with its last record year for Africa, which was
2013.

In Europe, Iceland appears to be a perennial favorite,
having made the U.S. Tour Operators Association lists both for top destinations
trending for 2017 and for top 10 emerging destinations for 2017. The U.K., too,
is expected to continue to be a favorable stop due to the strong dollar against the
weaker pound.

Here at home, Orbitz predicts that following the
presidential inauguration (and in part due to it), Washington could
see a spike in visitors this year, including for the inauguration itself.

Orbitz also cited the recent opening of the National Museum
of African American History and Culture on the National Mall as another big
draw for the nation’s capital.

“The museum has been sold out since its opening in
September and will likely continue to be a leading attraction for tourists
throughout 2017,” Orbitz said.

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