by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | January 01, 2008

Metro Toronto Convention Center

On the exchange-rate
front lines:
Metro Toronto
Convention Center

Canada has long been a shoo-in as the North American bargain destination for U.S. group business. But a weakening greenback coupled with tighter passport requirements at the border have Canadian hoteliers fretting over lost business and the country’s tourism agencies enacting new marketing strategies to lure dollar-shy U.S. planners north.

Last November, the U.S. dollar fell to an all-time low against the Canadian dollar, fetching a mere 98 cents. That same month, the Toronto-based Ontario Ministry of Tourism released its Business Conditions Survey, in which 62 percent of Ontario hoteliers cited the fluctuating exchange rate as the most significant business impediment. “It’s a huge concern among suppliers, because it affects inbound U.S. business,” said Jackie Ma, senior research officer for the OMT. “It’s all they talk about. We will have to wait and see what happens in 2008 and reassess the situation then.”

According to Andrew Weir, vice president of communications for Tourism Toronto, the issue of cost is a challenge, but the city remains a strong draw for first-time group business from the United States because of its proximity and cultural comfort level. “The marketing emphasis for us today is the quality you still get for the dollar,” said Weir. “We are working with clients to build value into their budget.”

Hotels, too, are pumping up the real-time value of the dollar. Last November, the luxury 380-room Four Seasons Toronto rolled out a group meeting package for business through Aug. 31, 2008, packed with value-adds such as a $50 credit per night, per room; a complimentary coffee break, and more. “We work at retaining long-term bookings by
offering these value-driven programs,” said spokesperson Melanie Greco.

The Canadian Tourism Council tackled passport concerns by partnering with the U.S. Postal Service to help associations expedite the application process for their members, an approach that Susan Iris, vice president, U.S. sales, for the CTC, called “extremely successful.”

Rising hotel rates also are adding to the increased cost of doing business in Canada. A Global Performance report released by Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Smith Travel Research for the first 10 months of 2007 showed the average daily rate for Toronto increased by 5 percent, to $133.90, over 2006. October 2007 showed one of the highest gains, with the ADR jumping 17.3 percent over the same period in 2006.