Canadians still flocking to the U.S. in spite of trade war

Cars line up to cross into the U.S. at the border on Feb. 25, 2017, in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Quebec. Don Emmert/Getty Images

The United States and Canada are engaged in a trade dispute, angering Canadians, but it doesn’t seem to be having an impact on tourism. Not yet, anyway.

In Old Orchard Beach, popular with Quebecers, innkeepers report that Canadian tourism remains strong despite the harsh words last month when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed that Canada “won’t be pushed around” and President Donald Trump called the prime minister “weak” and “dishonest.”

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Several weeks later, Canada imposed billions of dollars in retaliatory tariffs in response to the Trump administration’s duties on Canadian steel and aluminum.

Mostepha Azizi, a vacationer from Montreal, said that he’s confident the war of words will end and that “reason will prevail” between the neighbors.

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“For me, it’s just a question of time,” he said. “This thing will settle down. Trudeau and Trump have to find a solution to the problem.”

Canada accounts for the largest number of international visitors to the U.S., with more than 20 million visitors pumping nearly $20 billion into the U.S. economy, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The number of Canadians heading south has grown this year, and the flap between Trump and Trudeau after last month’s G7 summit in Quebec didn’t change that.

Border crossing data indicates the number of Canadian motorists returning from the U.S. in June grew 12.7 percent from last year, a healthy increase, according to a license plate-scanning system used by the Canadian government.

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A so-called “Trump Slump” never materialized after Trump’s election, and travel to the U.S. is growing despite anecdotal evidence that some Canadians are choosing to travel elsewhere, said Allison Wallace, of Flight Centre Canada, a travel agency with 150 locations across Canada.

“All of that being said, we’ve not seen a trade war like this, so that may change,” she said, “but as of now, the U.S. remains a very popular destination.”

Florida accounts for the largest number of visitors from the north, typically snowbirds in the winter. New England is also a popular destination, and beaches like Old Orchard Beach and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, are an easy drive from Canada’s Atlantic provinces.

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In Old Orchard, Canadian flags are flown and many desk workers speak French. Fries are served up Canadian-style, topped with vinegar, or with gravy and cheese.

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For now, the value of the Canadian dollar is having a bigger impact than the flap between the leaders. The loonie is currently worth only 76 cents in the U.S.

Claire Beaulieu, an owner of the Motel Kebek 2, said Canadians will keep coming because of the 7-mile stretch of sandy beach with plenty of rooms, food and a beachside amusement park. Canadians account for 95 percent of her bookings, she said.

For tourism, visitors are more interested in amenities than politics, even though many are baffled by the U.S. president’s actions, she said.

Fred Kennedy, owner of Aoulette Beach Resort, said his bookings are strong despite the relatively weak Canadian dollar, and he predicts relations between the countries will improve.

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“I think it’s going to blow over,” he said. “By this time next year, things will be patched up.”

Down the beach, at Kebek 3, owner Suzanne Beaulieu said her bookings were strong, too, but she acknowledged that could change next year if U.S.-Canadian relations remain frosty.

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At least one customer advised her she’ll rethink her plans next summer.

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“She said, ‘As long as Trump is in office, I don’t think I’ll be back,’” she said.

Vacationer Stella Bigras, of Laval, Quebec, said the trade flap and war of words are between two leaders. Regular folks, she said, still get along just fine.

“We are friends. We are neighbors,” she said.

“I hope we’re going to stay friends, and Trump and Trudeau will calm down. I think that we all always be here for the USA, even if we’re having stupid arguments. I think the USA will always be here for us, too. So I’m pretty sure we’re going to through this together.”

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