Strange but steady tourism season

Day-trippers replace stay-at-home Americans

Three kids in beach clothes lick multicoloured ice-cream they just bought from Glenna Angus's Scoop & Save store.
Tourists and cottagers such as these have made up a large part of Angus's summer clientele at the Harbour Street shop for the past 25 years.

This season has been steady, she says, despite spurting gas prices, unsettled weather and a drooping economy.
"It's been good. It's in probably with last year, even a bit better because we had the Old Boys (& Girls Reunion)," she says.
Special events such as the reunion, Scottish and music festivals

have been sure bets to lure visitors to Kincardine in an otherwise uncertain season, says Kelly McDonald, Kincardine's tourism co-ordinator.

Gas prices, a fairly even exchange rate and the poor United States economy mean more Americans are staying home.
"I don't know if we'll ever see the U.S. traffic the way we had it five or six years ago," says McDonald, referring to when the exchange rate let Americans buy goods here at almost half price.

Local business people are feeling the loss. Harbour Street Brasserie co-owner Derek Griffiths says he laid off an employee for lack of work this summer for the first time since opening six years ago.

"We've definitely noticed these American travellers or these Toronto travellers haven't been here," says Griffiths. United States customers, especially, are a "huge, huge part of our sales for the summer," he says.
A rise in local traffic is cushioning the blow, says Griffiths.

He tracks visitors from the phone numbers they give when making reservations. He's been jotting down more and more 5-1-9s, with people coming to dine from Wiarton to Goderich and everywhere in between.

"The day-trip market's definitely in full force," says McDonald. "We're starting to see more people hitting the beach. It's just a low-cost activity."

Hiking Kincardine's trails is another cheap way local visitors are spending their days before heading home to sleep.
But the rise in day-trippers likely isn't affecting hotel bottom lines, says McDonald. Many rooms are occupied through the week with contract workers employed with the Bruce A Restart.

"May and June were slower than they were in the past few years," says Best Western Governor's Inn manager Claudia Henschel. "At the time, prices were going higher and higher and the economy wasn't very good."

The reunion and good weather in July and August have salvaged the season, making business just as good or better than in the past, she says.

It has been an extremely rainy summer. Wiarton saw its wettest July since 1994, according to Environment Canada.
But McDonald says weather isn't as much of a deal-breaker as some people might think.

"It's something that you can't control, so we find that people come regardless. If the weather is less than perfect they come inside and just do something else. We usually have enough options."

McDonald compiled statistics showing that, as of mid-August, 169 more visitors had browsed the Kincardine tourism office than the 4,150 counted last year.

If these stats are any indication of the town's overall tourist draw, Kincardine is bucking an expected province-wide trend. In March, Ontario's tourism ministry predicted a 0.6 per cent overall drop in visits this year, including almost nine per cent fewer American travellers.

McDonald says she hopes the mass band crowd last weekend has tipped the tourist scales even further in the town's favour.