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Friday, September 09, 2005

Smooth sailing for tourism?

The pain at the pumps should not translate into lost income for Orillia and other lakeside communities that count on boaters for millions in spending each year, says an industry representative.

Predictions that skyrocketing fuel prices could prove devastating to Ontario's lucrative boating industry are off-base and ill-informed, said a spokesperson for a national, non-profit group dedicated to the enjoyment of watercraft.

"The gas story is really that there isn't a story when it comes to boating," John Hyslop, of Discover Boating, told Orillia Today.

A notoriously loyal crowd, boaters are unlikely to be dissuaded from enjoying the popular pastime because of a 20 or even 30 cent per-litre hike, the result of a hurricane that recently upset oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico, he added.

Weeks before Hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans, prices had already risen to the dollar mark with little impact on boat traffic, he said.

Orillia, a haven for anglers who ply the waters of Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching in search of perch and other species, should continue to be seen as a viable destination, Hyslop said.

Other than the cost of transportation to and from a favourite fishing hole, they generally use little fuel, either trolling at a snail's pace or staying put with the motor off, he said.

"You could spend the whole day fishing and have the engine on for only 20 minutes," he added.

While higher prices in the long term may discourage vacationers from traveling significant distances, the majority of Canadians enjoy easy access to lakes or rivers.

Ontario in particular is blessed with an enviable supply of waterfront destinations, with most communities either on or near water bodies capable of accommodating crafts large and small.

"Yes, you need gas to propel your boat, but you don't have to go far to get there," Hyslop said.

"The gas is clearly something that is an element, but it is not by any means a significant part of it," he said.

Unless you are Tom Gostick, whose double-decker cruise boat, the Island Princess, ferries a mix of tourists and corporate clients around local lakes.

Gostick's diesel bill has risen substantially over the past year, from $1,300 per week last summer to $2,000 per week in 2005. Introducing a small increase in ticket prices this year to compensate for inflation will only help offset the rising price of fuel, he said.

"We thought that would be profit this year, but we will be status-quo dollar-wise at the end of the year," he said. "All of it got eaten up with fuel costs."

While enjoying a relatively strong summer, the local operation attracted 30 per cent fewer visitors over the Labour Day weekend, compared with the same time last year, Gostick said.

"It has got nothing to do with the quality of the operation," he added. "People aren't travelling."


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