Strong Canada dollar hurts Niagara Falls tourism

OTTAWA, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Niagara Falls, one of Canada’s most prized tourism attractions, is luring fewer American visitors this year because of an unfavorable exchange rate, a Canadian tourism official said on Thursday.

The number of U.S. day trippers crossing the border into Canada to see the spectacular waterfalls has dropped 16 percent this year, Christopher Jones, vice-president of public affairs for the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, told a parliamentary finance committee.

Niagara Falls is one of many cases of lost tourism revenue seen across Canada due to the rising value of its currency against the U.S. dollar, Jones said.

“We’re hearing similar stories from border towns such as Windsor (Ontario) and Victoria (British Columbia),” he said.

Lawmakers have requested testimony from dozens of businesses, industry groups and economists on the impact of the strong Canadian dollar in order to make recommendations for the government on its next budget.

Canada’s dollar has risen rapidly against the greenback in recent months. It reached parity with the greenback in September and peaked at a modern-day high of US$1.1039 on Nov. 7 but has depreciated since then to US$1.015, or 98.54 Canadian cents, on Thursday.

As a result, fewer tourist dollars stay in Canada as more Canadians head south to take advantage of their greater purchasing power while U.S. tourists see little attraction in coming to Canada.

Americans make up 86 percent of non-resident tourism in Canada.

The currency appreciation of the past nine months should result in a 16 percent increase in overnight travel by Canadians to the United States, estimates Paul Darby, deputy chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada.

U.S. travel to Canada should only decrease by about 0.6 percent in the same period because it is less sensitive to exchange rate swings, he said.

“It’s both going in the wrong direction in terms of our balance of payments,” he said.

A Statistics Canada report last week showed that in September, overnight car travel from Canada to the United States hit a six-year high, surpassing 2 million. (Reporting by Louise Egan; Editing by Frank McGurty)