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July 16, 2018

Maine tourism weathering U.S.-Canada trade war

The trade war and tough talk between the United States and Canada don't appear to be dampening Maine's tourism business, according to reports from the Bangor Daily News and the Associated Press.

On May 31, the Trump Administration placed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, prompting Canada to impose tariffs of its own earlier this month. Historically cordial neighbors, the two countries have also swapped diplomatic barbs, such as President Trump's description of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as "weak" and "dishonest."

But Maine's hotel and restaurant operators don't seem to notice any fallout from the feud.

"I think the fears related to Maine tourism are overstated," Steve Hewins, president and chief executive officer of the Maine Restaurant Association and the Maine Innkeepers Association, told the BDN. "I've not heard that there's an issue with Canadians coming here. Canadian tourism has always been strong for Maine."

Detailed tourism statistics won't be available until later this year. And it's still early in the summer season, when Canadians typically flock to Maine. But they appear to be flocking at Joseph's By The Sea, a restaurant in Old Orchard Beach, long a popular destination for Quebec visitors.

Usually during the summer season, 35% to 40% of the restaurant's patrons travel from Canada, and the percentage this year is about the same, according to General Manager Erica Stagg.

"It's been a very busy season so far," she said in an interview with the BDN, although she noted that "the season is only two weeks in."

Fred Kennedy, owner of Alouette Beach Resort in Old Orchard Beach, said reservations have already been strong and that he's not worried about the impact of U.S.-Canada relations.

"I think this is going to blow over. By this time next year, things will be patched up," he told the AP.

Hewins said that Maine's lodging business grew 20.9% in the first four months of 2018, compared to the same period last year, with total revenues of more than $137 million.

Although there's no breakdown about where the visitors are coming from, a national number could offer a clue. Border-crossing data from Canada show that the number of Canadian motorists returning from the U.S. in June increased 12.7% over 2017, the AP reported.

Tourism is a large industry for Maine, with an economic impact of $9 billion last year, according to the state's Office of Tourism. An estimated 36.7 million tourists visited Maine in 2017, including 4.1 million from Canada.

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