Montreal tourism suffers under student strike

Mounted police with riot gears patrol in downtown streets during student protesting against tuition...

Mounted police with riot gears patrol in downtown streets during student protesting against tuition hike in Montreal, Quebec, April 29, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ROGERIO BARBOSA

Annie Saint-Pierre, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:54 AM ET

QUEBEC CITY – Montreal’s tourism sector appears to be collapsing during the student strike and Quebec City is reaping the benefits.

International conventions, a key indicator of economic strength in the metropolis, are down 50% compared with last year, said the CEO of a major downtown convention centre.

Louis-Robert Handfield, who runs the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure hotel, said violent student demonstrations have hurt an already slumping sector.

“Since it’s an industry that books three or four years in advance, this is already a serious problem,” Handfield told QMI Agency. “What’s happening right now certainly won’t help this industry.”

Family group bookings, which represent 20% of all reservations at the Bonaventure Hilton, are down as well, said Handfield.

“During the Memorial Day weekend, which begins this weekend, we had no fewer than 210 room cancellations,” he said. “This is three times more than the same weekend last year.”

Handfield expects Quebec City to benefit from the protests that have led to attacks on civilians and more than 2,000 arrests since February.

The U.S. consulate issued a travel advisory in April, urging U.S. citizens to avoid protest areas.

At Montreal Amphibus-Tours, which operates buses that double as boats, the director of customer service said bookings have sagged in recent months.

“Normally, customers are being turned away at this time of year,” said Florence Caron, “but we have not yet reached full capacity. We have 40% fewer customers and more than 60% of reservations are being cancelled.”

She said that on the Sunday before Victoria Day, one of her two 30-passenger vehicles had 22 empty seats.

Meanwhile, in Quebec City, business is booming.

Restaurateur James Monti, owner of the Savini, said he has double the customers that he had last spring.

Hotels and restaurants are expected to swell with business later in the summer with Madonna and Roger Waters set to perform on the Plains of Abraham, a historic location in The Battlefields Park in Quebec City.

But if tourist dollars are burning in Montreal, the province’s tourism minister continues to fiddle.

Nicole Menard said the situation in Montreal is “worrisome” but she refuses to acknowledge a drop in business.

“There are no cancellations. There’s nothing happening,” she insisted in the legislature on Wednesday.


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