Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Canadians flocking to U.S. - Strong loonie is encouraging citizens to travel south of the border, where they spend money

Canadians flocking to U.S. - Strong loonie is encouraging citizens to travel south of the border, where they spend money
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune and The Associated Press
Published July 17, 2007

OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine -- Hotels here fly Canadian flags alongside the Stars and Stripes. Desk workers speak French in addition to English. Fries are served up Canadian-style, topped with vinegar or gravy and cheese.

Old Orchard has long been a haven for Canadian tourists because the seven-mile stretch of sandy beach represents an easy drive from Quebec.

This summer there are more of them as the soaring Canadian dollar makes it more affordable for Canadians to vacation in the U.S., enticing more people to get into their cars despite the hassle of long waits at border crossings.

"It's good for everyone," said Claire Beaulieu, an owner of the Motel Kebec 2, a stone's throw from the beach, where every car in the parking lot had Quebec license plates on a recent morning.

Last summer Canadian tourists probably thought it couldn't get any better after the loonie, the Canadian dollar named after the loon in the back of the coin, reached a 28-year high against the greenback. That meant they could trade in their loonies for 90 U.S. cents.

Since then the Canadian dollar has grown even stronger. Today the loonie and greenback are nearly equal, with a loonie being worth about 96 cents.

It's a dramatic change from five years earlier, when the loonie was worth 62 cents. Canadian travel to the U.S. has grown 23 percent since then, according to data published by the Commerce Department.

"These are some of the best days for Canadian tourists who wish to travel south of the border for their summer vacation since bellbottom jeans and disco balls were all the rage," said Michael Woolfolk of the Bank of New York Mellon Corp.

And Canadians should get used to it. The trend is expected to continue for several years, said Woolfolk, a senior currency strategist.

Some Canadian banks have had to dip into their reserves after running out of greenbacks as Canadians cash in their loonies for trips to the U.S., said Manny Witt, director of the New England Tourism Office in Montreal.

Julie Arseneault of Rosemere, Quebec, said she and her husband decided to drive to Maine with their children instead of taking a flying vacation because of the strength of the Canadian dollar, as well as cheaper gas in the U.S. Gas is roughly $1 a gallon more expensive in Canada than in the U.S.

"That's why we came this year," Arseneault said.

Canadians like the Arsenaults used to come in large numbers, but some of them stopped coming when the value of the Canadian dollar dropped. Last year many in the tourism industry noticed that the trend had shifted again.

Bud Harmon, executive director of the local chamber of commerce, said half of the visitors this summer are from Canada.


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