MONTREAL—The head of Tourism Montreal says language uproars like Pastagate are hurting the city’s international image. With the start of tourist season, local merchants are worried about what the impact on business.

“We use to be overrun by people from Toronto and southern Ontario and now we don't see that much of them anymore,” said Jack Kowalsky, from Saute Moutons Jet Boating.

Kowalsky has owned a jet-boat operation in the Old Port for 30 years—he says he can already feel a shift this early in the season.

“We're at the front lines of tourism and we talk to people from all over the world, and I just see a drop of Americans,” he continued. “If nobody’s going to speak English to them or be polite to them, this is definitely going to have a negative effect.”

He's not alone in his concern.

In a speech given to the Board of Trade yesterday, the head of Tourism Montreal said: “This ridiculous bickering looks troubling abroad, can we put aside the silly linguistic quarrels and work together in the interests of developing our city?”

While businesses may be afraid the language concerns will scare off potential visitors, the minister for Montreal says the city's reputation is strong enough to overcome the occasional blip.

“We all acknowledge that pastagate was not a good idea, did not leave a good impression, but I must say that the amount of positive touristic coverage that we have has been tremendously good and that has more impact than anything else,” said Parti Quebecois minister Jean-Francois Lisee.

Still, Kowalsky says anything that reflects poorly on the city is a problem.

“Montreal is the jewel of the crown of tourism here in Canada. We have a beautiful city and something that people absolutely want to visit,” said Kowalsky. “They're so excited and we want everything to be positive about Montreal. We don't want to bicker about language.”

With tourist season around the corner, more bad news is the last thing the city needs.