Canadian Tourism Still Going Strong in Florida

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

TAMPA - Oh Canada! Where would Florida be without you? It seems as if over the years the irrepressible image of the Florida peninsula has become something of a southern extension of Ontario, or Quebec, and even British Columbia - a semi tropical reprieve from the intolerable winters of the Tundra.

Ask any convention and visitors bureau from Miami to Orlando, and you won't find any complaints about sharing the highways, oceans and golf courses with those of the Maple Leaf Flag. In fact the only folks who may get their feathers ruffled a little by our northern friends are the locals who have to witness the unveiling of those Speedo bathing suits at the beach in the middle of December.

But enter the recent devaluation of the Canadian dollar against the American dollar, and two major questions arose amongst the Florida tourism industry: would Canadian tourism numbers fall off the charts, and how would this affect Florida's bread and butter golf tourism industry?

"The early indication in Miami is that we are actually progressing towards 1997 levels of Canadian visitors, which was our all-time high for the 1990's," says Bill Anderson, a researcher with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In fact, according to Anderson, one of the bureau's travel marketing strategies is to go after the higher income travelers of western Canada, in addition to the traditional market of eastern Canada, in an attempt to bring an infusion of new dollars into the region.

Further up the road in Tampa, the effects of the Canadian monetary slump are having about as much of an impact on the Bay area as a Tampa Bay Lightening loss - that is to say, negligible at best.

"Actually we have seen Canadian tourism go up, its just that their visits are getting shorter," says Vicki Isley with the Tampa/Hillsborough Convention and Visitor's Association."

According to 1998 figures, 11% of the Tampa travel market was international, and of that 11%, Canadians made up the second largest group, just behind the United Kingdom. In hard numbers, that translates into about 235,000 Canadian tourists - about the population of the city of Tampa.

Great news for Florida's golfing industry, right? Well, not really; according to Isley, golf is not in the top ten activities listed by international visitors on bureau survey results, Canadians included. Instead, our friends from abroad are more likely to be at Bush Gardens, the Florida Aquarium, or the beach than out chasing the little white ball.

The Orlando area, which rolled out the red carpet to over half a million Canadian visitors in 1998 according to the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau, wouldn't feel the effects of a decline in Canadian visitors if slapped in the face by a Donald Duck roundhouse punch.

First, Canadians represent one of the smallest pieces of the tourism pie in the Orlando area, as overseas and international visitor numbers dwarf those of Canada. And second, according to bureau surveys, Canadians are in town to visit Disney, Epcot Center and the plethora of other theme parks in the area.

The good news? There should be plenty of die-hard Canadian hockey fans walking the streets of Tampa, ready to bestow words of wisdom on Tampa Bay Lightening fans and console Bay area hockey fans. The bad news? They still wear Speedos in the summertime.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of from 1997 to 2003.

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