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Canadian tourism officials see opportunity in exchange rate

While some of his classmates may travel to the Twin Cities for shopping and entertainment, UND student Adam Redmann enjoys the occasional trip north to Winnipeg.

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While some of his classmates may travel to the Twin Cities for shopping and entertainment, UND student Adam Redmann enjoys the occasional trip north to Winnipeg.

A city with a professional hockey team, cultural sites and major concerts, Winnipeg now may be more attractive to American travelers because of the persistent gap in the value of U.S. and Canadian dollars.

Take Redmann's bill for Winnipeg Jets tickets in December, for instance.

"The hockey tickets were pretty expensive, but they ended up being like $100 less than I thought they were going to be because of the exchange rate," he said.

While business leaders in Grand Forks fret over thinner Canadian traffic at local hotels, restaurants and shops, tourism officials in Winnipeg hope to capitalize on cost-conscious American travelers. As of Friday afternoon, one American dollar was worth $1.30 Canadian, meaning Americans can get more bang for their buck.

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That exchange rate may be paying off for Canadians already.

Winnipeg saw an estimated 8.8 percent increase in overnight visitation from the U.S. in 2015, according to stats provided by Tourism Winnipeg. And cross-border traffic was up even after factoring out last summer's FIFA Women's World Cup, said Chantal Sturk-Nadeau, senior vice president of Tourism Winnipeg.

At the same time, fewer Canadians are coming into the U.S. at the most heavily trafficked border crossing in North Dakota. The number of personal vehicles passing through the Pembina, N.D., port of entry dropped almost 12 percent in the first nine months of 2015 compared to the same time period in 2014, according to federal data.

Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO of the Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, said Americans seem to be attracted to Winnipeg for the arts and culture rather than for shopping. That underscores why it's important for Grand Forks to move forward on public arts and vibrancy initiatives, he said.

"Those are the types of things that do attract people to a community," Wilfahrt said.

'Experience and value'

The exchange rate gap is not only causing Canadians to think twice about going to places like Grand Forks, but also is prompting tourism officials in Canada to think about how to get their message out, Sturk-Nadeau said.

Tourism Winnipeg has targeted Grand Forks with visitor print materials at the Ralph Engelstad Arena and Grand Forks Air Force Base, as well as with digital advertising campaigns, the organization's spokeswoman Gillian Chester said. EnjoyWinnipeg.com also sponsored a game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in October.

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"We had our video on the jumbotron, we were telling everybody, 'Come with the exchange (rate),'" Sturk-Nadeau said. "We were amazed at how many Americans were saying that they didn't really realize the exchange rate difference right now."

Ben Sparrow, CEO of Sparrow Hotels in Winnipeg, said his business is communicating with U.S. travelers to emphasize "experiences and value."

"We think that we're going to see a lot of U.S. travelers this summer, and we hope that's the beginning of a new trend," he said.

But the Canadian tourism industry is still facing an uphill climb in changing the travel habits of many Americans.

There were almost 126 million valid U.S. passports in circulation in 2015, according to the U.S. State Department, representing roughly 39 percent of the country's population. Meanwhile, the passport possession rate in Canada is more 60 percent, according to a 2012 government report.

Redmann said UND students who are from North Dakota may recognize Winnipeg as an option, but not necessarily his classmates who are originally from the Twin Cities.

"A lot of Americans, they think of travel within their own borders," Sturk-Nadeau said. "That's the other aspect, even without talking about dollars, they wouldn't even think of coming up to Canada or going to Europe."

Julie Rygg, executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau, said staff doesn't track the number of visitors going into Canada. But, she added, Canadian tourism officials are simply following their mission of trying to attract visitors.

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"We compete with a lot of communities," Rygg said. "They're taking an opportunity, as well they should. When the Canadian exchange rate is good, we look at that as an opportunity for us, as well."

Related Topics: BARRY WILFAHRT
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