Montreal tourism fears summer chill from Quebec student strike

Mon Jun 4, 2012 12:12am EDT
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By Allison Martell and Leila Lemghalef

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Massimo Lecas, co-owner of Buonanotte, an upscale Italian supper club in downtown Montreal, put in the year's biggest meat and fish order last week, as he always does ahead of the Grand Prix.

Lecas needs rib-eye steaks, veal chops and lobster to load three massive barbecue grills set up in the street for the Formula One event and the glitzy three-day party it inspires. That one weekend brings in as much revenue as the downtown venue makes in January and February combined.

But Lecas and others who depend on tourism worry that a sometimes violent student strike will hurt business during the Grand Prix, and the event-focused tourism season it kicks into high gear.

"It's kind of scary to know that this weekend represents the livelihood of a lot of restaurants out there," Lecas said in the restaurant, a tony spot where diners watch for celebrities. "People will salvage their year based on this weekend alone."

The strike, which began in mid-February after the provincial government announced plans to raise tuition fees, threatens the tourism sector in Montreal, the biggest city in Canada's French-speaking province of Quebec.

Grand Prix organizers said they have sold thousands fewer tickets this year, though they would not share precise figures, and they blamed the conflict. Some 300,000 people attended last year, according to Tourism Montreal.

Michel Leblanc, chief executive of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, said some hotels saw bookings fall 25 percent compared with last year in the second half of May, despite strong bookings in earlier months. He also blamed the protests, which attracted global media attention last month.

"Clearly those images that were put on the screens had an impact," he said. "Tourists have choices."   Continued...