Sometimes it's hard to say how shore businesses are doing in the all-important summer season. Merchants have a habit of downplaying their success, and even in very good years you're apt to hear that things are slow.
But undoubtedly this year is a special challenge for many businesses. Lingering impressions that Hurricane Sandy destroyed the shore seem to have discouraged some visitors, especially in Ocean and Monmouth counties. The national economy is still limping along. And one of the rainiest Junes on record effectively cut the summer short by several weeks.
But there is one clear bright spot. Canadian tourists, especially from French-speaking Quebec, have rediscovered Cape May County and are becoming an important market for Atlantic City.
Some of this is because our money is a weak contender when up against the strong Canadian dollar. But a lot of it has to do with grassroots marketing and some creative ways that area groups are finding to put out a larger welcome mat.
Canadian visitors to Cape May County were already increasing in 2011, when 430,000 Canadians crossed the border to stay at local beaches. That was an 18 percent increase from the previous year. Their spending increased even more during that period, by 28 percent.
Cape May County tourism officials expect this year to be a record-breaker for Canadian visitors, and at least some of that is due to smart marketing.
Last year, the county tourism office made a decision to make a push into northern Quebec to spread the word about Cape May County's beaches, birding, campgrounds and history.
Also, the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority is reaching out to bus groups and other visitors from Canada.
And the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts is offering French-speaking tours of the 1879 Emlen Physick estate and - by trolley - of the rest of Cape May.
Visitors from Quebec and other parts of Canada are only a slice of the millions of annual visitors to Cape May and Atlantic counties, but they have a big impact because, having driven seven or eight hours to get here, they tend to stay longer. Tourists from neighboring states might stay three or four days, while Canadian tourists typically stay - and spend - for 10 to 12 days.
And, since the duty-free spending limit for Canadians has been raised from $50 to $200, visitors are doing more shopping.
We're glad to see so many of our neighbors to the north having a good time at the Jersey shore, and we appreciate how they're helping the local economy. We're also glad that so many local people know how to make them feel welcome, or, as the Quebecois say - "Bienvenue."