Cape May. Aux Oiseaux.

That’s French for: “Cape May. I’m in Heaven.”

That headline, from a 2010 issue of Canada’s La Presse, and the birding story that accompanied it, represents exactly the type of publicity the county is looking for as it works to expand its Canadian market.

A 2009 survey by the county found that Canadians account for 17 percent of its visitors, the fourth largest group. Tourists from Pennsylvania top the list at 24 percent.

“They say it’s very welcoming,” said Nicolle Dufour, who works for Cape May County promoting the southern end of the Garden State to her fellow Canadians.

Cape May County tourism director Diane Wieland wants to capitalize on the county’s Canadian-friendly reputation.

“Half a million Canadians come to New Jersey,” Wieland said. “We believe 70 percent of them come to Cape May County.”

Canadians spend an estimated $105 million in Cape May County, said Statistics Canada, the country’s official statistics agency.

While that may represent a fraction of the estimated $5.3 billion in tourism revenue generated in Cape May County last year, officials believe the Canadian market has the potential for strong growth.

To keep those numbers growing, Wieland had Dufour visit the area for a week to meet with tourism officials and representatives from local attractions such as Naval Air Station Wildwood in Lower Township.

The idea was to get ideas on ways to continue to draw what has become an important part of the county’s tourism industry.

“The Canadian market is very important because it’s a long-haul market. They come here for a week or 10 days or two weeks at a time,” said Debbie Bass, assistant director of tourism for the county.

Bass, a longtime Cape May County resident originally from Nova Scotia, said the county celebrated its 40th anniversary of marketing to Canadians in 2010.

The region became an attraction in the 1970s when Canadians discovered the area’s numerous campgrounds and warm ocean waters.

“It’s a loyal market that loves this area,” Bass said.

And it’s a market that can expand as consumers’ interests change.

Dufour pointed to a current promotion by Canoe, a top Canadian news site, designed to draw birders to Cape May County.

The promotion will end with one prize of a five-day stay in Cape May County, but the benefit is in the exposure it brings, Dufour said.

Canoe’s website receives about “5 million clicks a week,” Dufour said. “Every time someone clicks on the contest area, we see who is interested in coming to Cape May County. It’s also part survey.”

Birding, she said, is just of one of the county’s draws, along with everything from beaches to golfing.

Golf in the county has received its own publicity, with an article in the magazine Revue Golf AGP International that came complete with a digitally altered version of the famous Wildwoods sign. In the golf magazine’s version, the beach balls were transformed into golf balls.

Wieland said a golf contest may be offered next year to target Canadians looking to try their hand at some Garden State links.

Next year, the county, possibly with the aid of a state grant, also plans to advertise on cable television in and around Quebec City, the county’s target area, with the aim of advertising early to get Canadians to book earlier.

“People are used to coming to this area, and with the Canadian dollar stronger they are staying longer and upgrading their stay,” she said.

Dufour said Canadian ties to the area are often multigenerational.

She pointed to a contest run by another Canadian magazine that asked visitors to write about their favorite stay in the Wildwoods. The contest received hundreds of entries and emotional responses.

The contest winner wrote that she visited the Wildwoods as a child and had returned with her own children.

She closed the letter with the line, “Thank you Wildwood for all these childhood beautiful memories.”

Contact Trudi Gilfillian:

609-463-6716