Cape May County Tourism Director Diane Wieland is heading to Canada today. Her goal? Bring plenty of Canadians back with her in the form of summer tourists.

Canadians make up 9 percent of the visitors that come through Cape May County each year, and Wieland and her staff are working to increase that number.

"The Canadians are an important part of our customer base," Wieland said as she prepared for the nine-hour drive - lunch break included - to Montreal.

She and her staff are heading to the annual Montreal Hunting, Fishing & Camping Show, which draws an estimated 45,000 people over four days.

Cape May County has been attending the show for 30 years and has earned a prime location at the convention hall at Place Bonaventure in downtown Montreal.

"It's one of the primary marketing outlets in Canada," Wieland said. "You get a lot of people coming through to see what's new."

Wieland and her staff will be accompanied by John McNair, also known as Mackie, a Galloway Township resident who happens to be a stilt-walker. McNair will join Wieland and Debbie Bass, marketing coordinator for the tourism department, at the county's booth.

Bass said McNair is an attention-grabber for the booth.

"He sometimes dresses in waders or carries a fishing pole, but all on stilts," Wieland said.

But the real attractions are Cape May County's beaches, Boardwalks, water activities and amusements, and that's what Wieland will be promoting. And she's now looking to take the message farther north.

Based on online inquiries and surveys, she has learned that Quebec City, usually not the county's target market, is sending guests to southern New Jersey.

That information led to a major campaign this year to bring Quebec City residents to the county.

"This is the year we need to make a bigger splash," she said. "Now we are making a concerted effort to market to Quebec City."

The county has a $320,000 tourism budget, and about $30,000 goes to Canadian efforts.

In Quebec City, print, radio and television advertising is being used to draw new visitors. Brochures and marketing literature also is being produced in French to target that market.

The use of French, Wieland said, also is important once visitors arrive.

To that end, the county is partnering with Atlantic Cape Community College to offer three or four brief courses in the language and in customs for those in the tourism business.

"We want to give the front-line staff enough to at least understand phrases, maybe help with a menu or give directions," Wieland said.

Cultural differences, such as the Quebec manner of "dining" versus simply eating, also will be discussed. And a visitors guide in French, complete with coupons at a time when the U.S.–Canadian exchange rate is less favorable to Canadians, is planned.

The new program fits in at a time when Quebec City is on Wieland's radar.

"The farther you drive," Wieland said of Canadian visitors, "the longer you stay."

Contact Trudi Gilfillian: