Canadians flocking to U.S. airports a huge issue. So let's do something already
Maybe this time the Prime Minister is listening.
The Conference Board of Canada gave a boost to this country's struggling tourism industry on Wednesday when it issued a hefty and strongly worded report warning the feds about the increasing number of Canadians fleeing high taxes and airport fees in this country and flying out of airports across the border. The board, which is extremely well respected across the country, said some five million passengers cross the border annually to fly from U.S. airports to escape fees and taxes that result in much higher prices for Canadian flights.
“Cross-border air-fare shopping is being driven by a perfect storm of factors that also includes differences in wages, aircraft prices, and industry productivity as well as U.S. aviation policies,” said the study’s author, Vijay Gill. “For air carriers flying from American airports, these add up to a 30 per cent cost advantage.”
The board said the average flight to a common U.S. destination (whatever that is) out of Toronto costs $318 for the base, plus $114 in fees and taxes for a $432 total. To reach those same destinations from Buffalo would cost a flier $265 in base fare plus $59 for a total of $324. That's a difference of $108 per ticket. Multiply that by four for a family and you're at almost $450. No wonder Orlando tourism officials tell me that 17 per cent of Canadians who fly to central Florida use American airports such as Buffalo-Niagara (see photo at right).
You can stay at a hotel in Buffalo the night before a flight and often park for free. Sure, you'll spend $50 on gas and $150, maybe, for the hotel room. But if you can park for free in Buffalo you could save on your parking or on the horrendous cost of a cab to Pearson, plus you'd come out maybe $200 ahead on your airline tickets even when you take the hotel and gas cost into account.
You think it's bad in Toronto? Ha. Look at the numbers for Montreal. According to the Conference Board, a flight to the U.S. from Montreal averages a whopping $573 in base fare (WOW) plus $124 in taxes and fees for a killer average of $697. Montrealers can drive to Burlington, Vermont (a two-hour drive) and pay just $327 for that same ticket; LESS THAN HALF the price of flying from home.
This has been talked about before. The Star wrote a good story about it not long ago. But I'm thinking the weight of the Conference Board might actually be making an impression in Ottawa this time.
“Yes, we are concerned about that,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Wednesday when asked about the new data.
“(Transport) Minister (Denis) Lebel has been working on a consultation project with the airlines, with the airport authorities in Canada, who are very important on this issue, to try to see what we can accomplish, and we’ll hear more from him over time,” Flaherty told the media.
The Star's Ottawa bureau reports Flaherty did not give any details on what is being considered or when the public might hear what Ottawa hopes to accomplish. Nor did he give he any details on who Denis Lebel is. Or better yet Maxime Bernier, the minister for small business and tourism, who's virtually invisible but appears to enjoy having his picture taken at tourism events at which he can hold models of planes.
The fact that tourism is even part of a ministry associated with small business is completely and utterly LUDICROUS.
For its part, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada has (very quietly) been asking folks in the biz to step up and fight against "significant" cuts to the Canadian Tourism Commission budget. In a note on the TIAC website, officials state that "the proposed CTC budget for 2013/14 is $57.8 million - a decrease of 41.5% in just a decade."
"Funding the CTC is more important than ever," TIAC says. "Tourism continues to grow globally, but Canada's share continues to erode. We have slipped from 7th to 18th in the world for international visitors and we are one of only five countries to experience a drop in arrivals in the last 10 years. With less money to promote Canada in key markets, we will unquestionably struggle to take advantage of the growth in international travel.
"As tourism business people, you make vital contributions to the Canadian economy, creating jobs - over 600 000 across the country - and creating more than $78.8 billion in economic activity."
I know a dollar doesn't go as far as it used to, but 78.8 BILLION DOLLARS ain't small business, folks. It's BIG, CRITICAL BUSINESS and deserves a lot more support. And respect. But I guess it's hard for the Prime MInister to provide money for tourism and to grow tourism jobs because he has to fund all those jails we need to protect us from the gangs of roaming thugs who stroll our streets day and night.
A Senate report in June said Ottawa should “stop treating airports as a source of public revenue and start treating them as economic spark plugs.” And amen to that.
Most of the blame for our tourism situation falls with Harper. But I think TIAC and others in the industry need to do more than issue the odd press release tsk-tsking over budget cuts. How about a forum in downtown Toronto with the Four Seasons and Fairmonts and Delta hotels people - all Canadian companies. How about bringing in cabbies and restaurant owners and Air Canad and Porter and WestJet people and delivering a high-profile blow instead of (or in addition to) quietly lobbying the Jim Flaherty's of the world?
Wouldn't it be a good thing for the Canadian people to know just what's going on in such a vital industry?