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Sault tourism numbers exceeding some pre-pandemic years

Predicted loosening of border crossing requirements will help, says tourism director
08-15-2022-Miss Marie headlines return of Sault Lock Tours-AF-01
The 100-person capacity 'Miss Marie' vessel pictured at the Roberta Bondar dock. The new lock tours are one of the drivers of an increase in tourism dollars being spent in the city, says Tourism Sault Ste. Marie.

Sault Ste. Marie is experiencing a tourism boom so far in 2022, with numbers exceeding totals in some pre-pandemic years.

Between the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, the Miss Marie tour boat and a number of other options open to tourists, more tourists are spending dollars on accommodations and group tours in the city.

“Our overall numbers this year are trending above our 2019 numbers,” said Travis Anderson, director of Tourism Sault Ste. Marie. ”We are actually seeing an increase in visitation this year versus pre-COVID and it’s a range of initiatives that are really driving that growth.”

“It’s great to see that it has bounced back and beaten some pre-COVID numbers that we had. It’s fantastic,” he added.

Tourism Sault Ste. Marie uses a number of different ways to track how busy the tourism sector is, including the municipal accommodation tax, a four per cent fee applied to hotels, lodges, resorts or anywhere accommodation is provided for fewer than 30 days in a row.

To date, $779,000 has been collected through the mandatory tax. Anderson said that is about 15 per cent higher than the same period in 2019. 

“There’s a connection there between increased visitation and our collections,” said Anderson.

The proceeds of the tax are used to further market Sault Ste. Marie’s tourism offers and for product development.

Anderson said group bookings are also up about 10 per cent so far this year over the same period in 2018.

“Given the ongoing border issues we have been having, we are really impressed with the number of bookings,” he said.

Reports that the federal government may loosen requirements at the border for vaccination and mandatory use of the ArriveCan app will only help to increase tourism traffic from the U.S., said Anderson.

“Especially heading into the winter and trying to attract U.S. visitation for Searchmont. I think it would be really great to see the app rolled back before then,” he said.

Anderson said a number of investments that have been made to support tourism options in Sault Ste. Marie and surrounding area have begun to pay off, including the addition of the Miss Marie tour boat.

The Miss Marie lock tours will be operated this year until Oct. 15.

“With the new lock tour boat — the Miss Marie — there is obviously a lot of interest in that vessel throughout the fall period, as well,” said Anderson.

The Agawa Canyon Tour Train began its season on Aug. 1 and runs until Oct. 10. 

This is the first season that the new train station is fully operational, with a restaurant, microbrewery, exhibits, a climbing wall and more. 

“It’s the perfect jumping off point for the train and when they get off they have all sorts of amenities at that location now, relative to the old location,” said Anderson. “It’s been really well received by visitors and something we will see continuing to grow.”

The fall colour season is one of the busiest for tourism in the Sault and surrounding area.

“We see a lot of the group tours coming up to the Sault, both for the train and fall colour bus tours up the Lake Superior coast,” said Anderson. “We are definitely seeing an increase in traffic for that period.”

— SooToday