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DAY TRIPS TO CANADA HIT NINE-YEAR HIGH

Canada was the vacation destination for about 1.1 million Americans in August, the highest monthly total of overnight trips in nearly a decade.

Statistics Canada, the Canadian government agency that tracks cross-border travels, said the 3 percent jump in visits of one or more nights, compared to July's count, put the total at its highest level since February 1988.

The number of overnight trips by Americans has been fluctuating around the 1 million mark for the past two years, with only one brief dip to a seasonally adjusted 950,000 visits last September.

The weakness of the Canadian dollar, which has hovered at approximately 73 cents (U.S.) for many months, has continued to make Canada an attractive vacation destination.

Meanwhile, same-day, cross-border travel remained practically unchanged in August. Americans made a seasonally-adjusted 2.1 million quick excursions to Canada. Same-day trips are generally used as a barometer of cross-border shopping activity.

The trend in Americans' same-day car trips to Canada has generally been upward after reaching its most recent low in January 1994.

Locally, the same-day travel numbers are a better barometer of the popularity of Casino Niagara. The Niagara Falls, Ont. gambling facility has sent the same-day trip count for the Rainbow and Whirlpool bridges soaring every month since it opened last December.

In August, the Rainbow Bridge tallied 371,659 quick trips, up 40 percent from the previous August's 265,448 trips. The count was up 14.5 percent on the Whirlpool Bridge, from 65,053 to 74,488.

The Lewiston-Queenston span saw the number of same-day trips rise 2.9 percent from 194,859 in August 1996 to 200,578 this year. Only the Peace Bridge saw a decline in same-day traffic, down 4.3 percent from 473,615, to 453,450.

The overall Niagara bridge total was up 10.1 percent over the prior year, rising from 998,975 to 1.1 million. That compares to a 6.7 percent increase in same-day crossings for all of Canada.

Canadians also picked up the pace of their same-day trips to the United States in August. The seasonally adjusted 3 million visits was up 2.6 percent from July.

Locally, the four bridges reported a 1.6 percent jump in the year-to-year comparison, up to 552,064 this August from 544,064 a year ago.

Statistics Canada counted 1.2 million overnight trips to the United States by Canadians in August -- a less than 1 percent increase from July.

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