CAPE MAY — Christine McGloin scanned the Internet hoping to find something to do with her older sister visiting from France.
The problem: McGloin’s sister, Marie Danielle Salans, 63, of Mons en Baroeul, a village in northern France, can’t speak a lick of English. That’s when McGloin, 48, of Mullica Township, stumbled upon a new program at the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities.
Hoping to attract an influx of French-Canadian tourists, MAC on Friday afternoons hosts trolley rides through Cape May and tours of the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate with French-speaking tour guides.
“When I get relatives from France, it’s very hard to find things like this, even in New York City. We’re going to Washington next week and I’m not finding much on the Internet,” McGloin said.
Salans was pleased with her tour of the late Emlen Physick’s Victorian mansion on Washington Street, given by Eileen Kirk, a former Catholic school teacher who taught French.
Cape May County Tourism Director Diane Wieland, who does heavy marketing of the county in places including Montreal and Quebec City, initiated the push. She wants to make sure when French-speaking Canadians arrive, they feel welcome.
Wieland said about 500,000 Canadians are vacationing each year in the county, and the number is growing because of much cheaper gasoline in the states and a favorable exchange rate. The key is to make sure the vacation experience is enjoyable so they come back even without such economic factors.
“We are working with communities to get information translated and on websites in French. We want restaurants to have menus in French. Campgrounds are putting recycling regulations and swimming pool rules in French,” Wieland.
The county began marketing itself in Montreal in 1968, but in recent years has pushed north to Quebec, where there are more Canadians speaking French.
“They want their information in French. I do think it’s paying off but the bottom line is the exchange rate and the price of gas,” Wieland said.
Wieland approached MAC and the idea was well-received. As the exchange rate improved, more Canadian tourists have come to Cape May. Wieland said years ago Canadian visitors mostly stayed at campgrounds and often in tents. Back then a Canadian dollar could be worth as little as 40 cents here, while now the dollars are pretty much equal.
Many still do camp, though Wieland said now they drive down in RVs, but she also noted more are going to hotels and motels and renting condominiums. They are not day-trippers. It takes 10 hours to drive here.
“The average stay is 10 days. They are spending money here,” Wieland said.
MAC has only committed to the French-speaking tours for two more Fridays, Aug. 3, and Aug. 10, but MAC Director Michael Zuckerman said the program could continue if there is enough demand. He noted MAC put a full-page ad, in French, in the magazine This Week in Cape May, to drum up interest in the program.
MAC spokeswoman Susan Krysiak said there are French-speaking visitors who went on the tours even before the program.
“It’s about communicating as easily as possible,” Krysiak said.
Zuckerman said MAC was lucky to have Kirk as a tour guide. She referred to some notes as she gave the tour but also had several conversations with Salans and McGloin in French.
After the tour McGloin translated Salans’ view of the 1879 Physick house, one of the first in the city to have hot and cold running water.
“She said the house for that time was glamorous. Now, with modern technology, you wouldn’t want to live there,” said McGloin.
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