Mr. Williams's organization describes a "perfect storm of adverse conditions" in a country where nearly 90 percent of the tourist trade is American: sky-high gasoline prices, confusion about new US customs and passport requirements, border crossing delays, and the US dollar's 30 percent fall against its Canadian counterpart over the past two years.
Among the hardest hit are communities and businesses that rely on short-term, drive-in tourists. In March, Americans made only 730,000 same-day car trips, down 2.5 percent from February and 68.3 percent from 2001.
"The season has gotten off to a slow start," says Pauline Alexander, who works at the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, one mile beyond the bridge linking Campobello Island, New Brunswick, with Lubec, Maine. Annual visits to the park's centerpiece – Franklin D. Roosevelt's summer home – have fallen by a third since 2001. "It's been really hard for people on the island," she says.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario has also seen its US clientele wither, with ticket orders off by 10 to 12 percent compared with 2007. "Until this year, we've been somewhat protected from the downturn. But now we've seen the most significant drop," says the theater company's media manager, Ann Swerdfager. "There's the weak dollar, high gas prices, and a lot of confusion about what kind of documents are required to get back into the US."