The Quebec Motel in Wildwood is just one example of how the area’s draw in French-speaking Canada has long been a part of local tourism. That interest is cyclical, however, and tourism officials are projecting growth. This year, Quebec edged out Connecticut as the fourth largest source of visitors to Cape May County.

The face of Cape May County's tourism effort in Canada works from an office in her home in Rosemere, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal.

When local tourism officials offered a "Passport to Savings" coupon book aimed at French Canadians this year, Nicolle Dufour translated 99 coupons, conscious that a slight typo could lead to a major misunderstanding.

Dufour converts local press releases and announcements into French and distributes them to more than 100 media outlets in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.

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The local presence in the Canadian media is tallied each year, from a May feature story in La Presse daily newspaper on birding in Cape May County to a write-up of local wineries in Euphoria, a travel magazine.

This year, there were 831 inches of print - the standard in publishing for measuring a story - in magazines and newspapers, according to the Cape May County Department of Tourism.

The stories have an advertising equivalent value of about $500,000, Director Diane Wieland said.

The value of publicity has an added emphasis in Canada, where fewer advertising dollars are spent than in the tri-state area.

About a quarter of the county tourism advertising budget – $42,000, including a $9,000 state grant - is spent in Canada.

About $29,000 of that is spent on direct marketing, Wieland said.

Dufour said promoting Cape May County has evolved to activities outside of marketing the beaches and boardwalks, such as trying to redirect golfers from the fairways of South Carolina.

"A big percentage comes from Quebec. The number of brochures we send in that area is unbelievable," said Dufour, who had previously worked in television promotions and media relations for the music and hotel industries before becoming a public relations consultant.

Getting travel publications into the offices of the Canadian Automobile Association is a key part of marketing because nearly all tourists drive, Wieland said.

The Passport to Savings booklet recently won a gold award from the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International as part of a campaign recognizing 40 years of Canadian patronage.

"It's a way to show the Quebec people, who have been so faithful, that we're happy you've been a tourist so long," Dufour said. "It's a way to say thank you, we're giving you this in French."

The area's draw in French-speaking Canada has long been a part of local tourism, but one that ebbs and flows. The economies and exchange rates of both countries are major factors.

In the 1990s, exchange rates devalued Canadian currency by nearly one-third.

Currently, the American dollar is worth just one penny more, the Bank of Canada said on Thursday. Ten years ago, each American dollar was worth 34 cents more.

"The growth is going to come," Wieland said. "It's going to come because of the exchange rate, it's about at par. This is as close to par as it's been for a long a time."

This year, Quebec edged out Connecticut as the fourth largest source of visitors to Cape May County, behind New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, Wieland said.

About 500,000 Canadians come to New Jersey each year, and about 70 percent of them come to Cape May County, Wieland said.

Cape May County's tourism industry is worth $5 billion a year. Tourism officials said they cannot pinpoint the value that Canadian tourists represent.

How Cape May County markets to its northern neighbors has changed.

The county once staffed a year-round office in downtown Montreal but closed it in 1995 when visitors dropped to about 5 percent of the county's visitors. In the 1970s, that figure was 25 percent, Wieland said.

That office cost $75,000 a year in rent, utility bills, salaries and taxes, she said.

"We'll never open another office. The expense was just too much," Wieland said. Tourism marketing kept a presence with a public relations consultant.

In 2005, an influx of Canadian tourists became visible as the exchange rate improved for foreigners, Wieland said.

"That's when we started to see the change in the economy. It was not expected," Wieland said. "It was all of sudden we're getting a lot more phone calls, a lot more reservations. When it was at 15 percent, that was the turning point."

The Greater Wildwood Tourism Improvement and Development Authority launched a French version of its website in 2008.

The Wildwoods had scaled back marketing in Canada when the exchange rate grew especially lopsided but renewed their push several years ago, said John Siciliano, executive director.

"The exchange rate is going to get them to cross the border," he said. "We want them to choose the Wildwoods and Cape May County as a place where they want to make their stay."

The presence of Canadian tourism is clearly visible.

Starting in 2007, the Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority resumed printing a camper's recycling guide in French after stopping it years before when Canadian tourism dropped.

The guide will be printed in French next year, said Bridget O'Connor, recycling coordinator for the MUA.

The Calypso Quebec Resort in Wildwood is among motels that see big increases in Canadian tourists in the summer, particularly the end of July and beginning of August - the construction holiday.

During that time period, about 65 percent of the guests are from Quebec, said Roger Thompson, reservations and marketing manager.

"They're great people. They're a lot of fun," he said.

Contact Brian Ianieri:


Favorable exchange

Exchange rates of Canadian and U.S. currency, showing much a Canadian dollar was worth in the U.S. as of Dec. 23 of that year.

2010 - 99 cents

2008 - 82 cents

2006 - 86 cents

2004 - 81 cents

2002 - 64 cents

2000 - 66 cents

Source: Bank of Canada.


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