Wildwood’s Quebec Motel was so intent on drawing visitors from that Canadian province that at its grand opening in 1963, one of the dignitaries was the mayor of Quebec City. And a radio reporter from Quebec spent that July and August at the motel, calling in weather reports back home.
The motel’s current owner, Lester Katsanis, says French-Canadian visitors are still a key to his bottom line, as they are to motels and businesses all over the Wildwoods, to campgrounds on the Cape May County mainland and to more restaurants and shops nearby.
But the owners of many of those businesses are worried about the growing weakness of the Canadian dollar.
For Canadians traveling in the United States, their dollar was worth just 73 cents here Friday — and just three years after their money was strong enough to buy a bit of a bonus in the U.S. That exchange rate has local businesses concerned that French-Canadians may not make their traditional trip south this summer, so they are starting to offer discounts to draw them back.
Business owners “are saying, ‘We‘re willing to meet you halfway. We appreciate your business, and patronizing our business is very important to us,’” said Diane Wieland, Cape May County’s tourism director, a veteran of 40 years of dealing with the Canadian market.
She recently sent a note on a “Canadian incentive program” to about 500 businesses around the county, and “we’re seeing 10 to 15 percent discounts that some are starting to offer,” she said.
In Wildwood, Katsanis says he has given these discounts before as the exchange rate has swung against the Canadian loonie, and he’ll do it again.
“What we’ve been doing in the past is giving a discount especially for repeat customers,” he says, adding that some of the Quebec visitors are so loyal, he’s now seeing the third generations of families come to a motel that he has owned since 1985.
“But there’s a difference we have to recognize,” he added. “With the Internet, you put your price up and your room goes, and you don’t know who’s at the other end.”
So Canadian travelers have to contact the Quebec directly to get their discounts. But in one brochure Wieland put together, many of the businesses give special online codes, including “le Canadian 10” at the Biscayne Family Resort in Wildwood Crest and “le code special 2016SweetDeal” at the Lotus Inn, in the same town.
The owners of the Holly Shores Camping Resort, on the Lower Township mainland, have their own discount, and went to a camping show in Quebec to promote it. The business even has a French option on their telephone answering system.
“About 90 percent of my business in the summer is French-Canadian,” says Dave Robinson, who owns Holly Shores with his wife, Maggy.
Many of those visits still come in the traditional times of late July and early August — when an official “construction holiday” used to shut down most work in Quebec. But Maggy, 60, who grew up in the local campground business, says those visitors are extending their seasons from June to October.
Still, while Cape May County is compiling these offers, and promoting them heavily in French around Quebec, officials aren’t taking the traditional French-Canadian migration for granted this summer.
“We just want our businesses ... to realize this is going to be a different year, and we don’t see any end in sight,” Wieland said.
One analyst told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. last month that he sees the loonie diving to 59 cents against the U.S. dollar, an all-time low.
David Doyle, of Macquarie Capital Markets Canada Ltd., also projected that the Canadian dollar won’t be worth more than 65 cents in this country until the end of 2018, at the earliest, mostly as a result of low oil prices on the world market.
So Wieland adds that some of merchants are looking at bigger discounts.
“And some are saying that their loyal customers booked (for this year) before they left last summer, but they’re not seeing any new Canadian visitors,” she added.
To increase interest in the discount offers, Wieland’s pitch noted that Quebec residents accounted for almost 215,000 visits and more than 558,000 room nights — or campsite nights — last year.
About 75 percent of Quebec residents who came to New Jersey went all the way to Cape May County, and they spent almost $55 million, in U.S. dollars, Wieland added.
The county even used to have its own office in Montreal, until about 20 years ago. But they still have a public-relations consultant there, and officials from the county recently were back for an outdoor travel show in Montreal.
They found a little good news in the exchange rate: Their trip to Canada was much cheaper than normal. And with the stronger U.S. dollar, Wieland said, her Canadian advertising budget buys about 35 percent more than it did just a few years ago.