American tourism/travel types have seen the future ... and we're it.
They’re after us.
I caught up with a dozen or so representatives of various U.S. states and cities at the annual Discover America Day in Toronto on Tuesday. It’s a day with a series of ten-minute appointments for U.S. tourism folks to meet with writers/editors and other travel journalists and fill them in on what’s happening in their region.
At the end of the morning your head is spinning from trying to keep track of which city is adding the 85-story Frank Gehry condos (oh, wait, that’s us) and which has the new transit line to the new gallery aarea with the cool new restaurants and mixologists and farm-to-table cuisine next to the awesome boutique hotel with a micro-brewery and a Hammam spa using all local, natural ingredients. But several things were fairly clear when I checked my notebook this morning, the main one being that a lot of places in the U.S. have their eye fixed directly north of the border, and not because they’re worried about a cold front coming down from Canada. No, it seems many folks in U.S. tourism have seen the future of travel. And, to borrow from the famous line about Bruce Springsteen, its name is Canada.
Arizona tourism officials told me they’re launching consumer advertising for the first time in Mexico and Canada; mostly Ontario, Alberta and B.C. Arizona gets a lot of visitors from out west but Ontario is such a huge base that we end up sending a lot of tourists to the golf resorts, spas and ranches of Arizona, as well.
It’s a number I heard over and over again at the meeting, but Arizona officials said Canadian visits have jumped by 10 per cent or so in each of the last two years.
There were some 700,000 Canadian visits to Arizona last year and they’re aiming to boost that to a million in the next couple years if they can by pushing their glorious nature, growing wineries and their food scene, including a Salsa Trail down near Tucson where you can visit small food places with their own cuisine.
A Phoenix tourism official told me they’ve gone crazy building a new rail line in the valley and that there are several new hotels, including a new Westin and a Kimpton, which has a hotel in Chicago, The Burnham, that I just love.
They’re also pushing spa treatments for guys, one of which, I kid you not, is a hot golf ball massage. I’ve heard of hot rocks being put on your back, but I love the idea of a hot golf ball. All you need to complete the guy-spa trifecta is a cold beer and a pulled pork sandwich.
Down Virginia way, I was told that Canadian overnight visits this year are up 10.6 per cent. Flights on Porter from Toronto to Washington Dulles (located in Virginia) and Air Canada flights to Dulles and to the under-appreciated city of Richmond have helped a lot, of course, as has the fact you can reach the northern part of the state from Toronto in 10 hours of driving, or get to the state’s beaches in 12.
The Washington D.C. area Metro line is slowly being extended all around the city and by 2017 should reach Dulles airport. Virginia folks also are excited about the coming release of Lincoln, the Steven Spielberg film shot in their state that features Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones.
The wine scene also is growing in Virginia, where Donald Trump recently opened a winery (see photo at right).
A touch further south in North Carolina, figures show Canadian spending last year was up 17 per cent and that there were more than one million Canadian trips to the Tar Heel state. Unfortunately for Carolina, less than half of those visitors stayed the night. Which is why they’re launching a “Get Off The Highway” program aimed at convincing visitors to see more of what the state has to offer.
North Carolina, not unlike Virginia, has both beautiful mountains and rolling, pastoral hills and big, fun cities and fabulous beaches. So there’s no shortage of stories to tell.
There’s lots happening down in Vegas, too. Canada’s Shania Twain starts her rotation Dec. 1, joining Celine Dion, Rod Stewart and Elton John. Faith Hill and Tom McGraw also will be regulars in town, along with Taylor Hicks and others.
A spokesperson for Las Vegas tourism told me a lot of the credit for the resurgence in town goes to Dion for her commitment and continuing musical presence.
In Orlando, they're always thrilled to see Canadians. They're also stressing family travel but reminding folks they can do a family travel but still allow mom to sneak out for a spa treatment or a round of golf with her girlfriends, or for dad to get some alone time. Which makes sense.
Officials say there are more and more hotels with suites so folks can spread out or do multi-generational trips.
Orlando folks call their city the "no compromise vacation" spot, as folks can not only do theme park visits but also shop at everything from boutiques to outlet malls, as well as take in fine dining and all sorts of other activities. They'll be doing their "Made for Canada" deals in November, so have a look for those.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few things happening in San Francisco, one of the favourite American destinations for Canadians. They just completed the new Pier 27 Cruise Terminal on the waterfront. It’ll be used for the America’s Cup in 2013 and then will be made operational for cruise ships. San Francisco may not be the first city that comes to mind for cruises, but it’s a very active port and the new terminal will accommodate vessels up to 1,200 feet in length carrying 2,600 passengers.
The Port of San Francisco celebrates its 150th anniversary next year. The Golden Gate Bridge, for those of you keeping score at home, celebrated its 75th anniversary this year. The renowned San Francisco Symphony celebrates its 100th season this year, too, and the Walt Disney Family Museum (located in the restored Presidio army base) celebrates the 75th anniversary of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney’s first feature-length animated film, from Nov. 15 to April 14 of next year.
Elsewhere, there’s a new “Earthquake” exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences, where you can experience a high-magnitude jolt in an an earthquake similar and learn all about quakes and plate tectonics and other cool stuff. They’re also redesigning Jefferson Street in Fisherman’s Wharf (completion date 2015) to make it more pedestrian friendly and bring in “mini-plazas” where folks can stop and relax or take in a street performance (see design/drawing above left).
I sometimes find tourism folks – and travel writers like me – get all caught up in what’s new in a particular city. But in some ways it’s a ridiculous question. I mean, it’s great that the symphony is 100 years old, I guess, but what most tourists want to do is ride cable cars halfway to the stars and stroll past the Italian cafes and shops of North Beach or drive down Lombard St. or ride a bike across the Golden Gate Bridge. None of those activities is remotely new, but they’re what makes San Francisco what it is, and often folks in the business, myself included, forget that.