Strong loonie could boost N.H. tourism

Canada is the top international visitor market for New Hampshire, with most visitors hailing from Quebec, Ontario and Atlantic Canada

The Canadian dollar is now at its strongest level in three years when measured against the U.S. dollar — a value that could lead to an influx of Canadian tourists to New Hampshire, according to state tourism officials. The Canadian dollar — or loonie, as it is commonly called — has been hovering at about $1.05 USD since late April, its highest level since November 2007.

Most forecast the loonie to remain in this range for at least the next few months, said Tai Freligh, director of communications for the New Hampshire Division of Travel & Tourism Development. This could be particularly good timing, because summer is the busiest season for Canadian tourism to the state, he said, and a strong loonie could entice more visitors.

"I think definitely we'll see an impact (on tourism), especially given our tax-free status," said Freligh. "For the international visitor, shopping is one of the biggest draws. When their dollar is strong, they can come to New Hampshire and take advantage of that."

And while gas prices continue to rise, Freligh says they are unlikely to be a deterrent, as prices are still lower in the U.S. than they are in Canada.

A recently stabilized Canadian government also may help to strengthen the loonie.

Canada's May 2 federal election — the third since 2006 — resulted in a majority government for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which guarantees the Conservative Party a four-year term. The stability of a majority government, coupled with a fiscally conservative governing party, is expected to be "a long-term positive for the loonie," wrote Financial Post journalist Jonathan Ratner.

Canada is the top international visitor market for New Hampshire, with most visitors hailing from Quebec, Ontario and Atlantic Canada. Including same-day visits, there were nearly a million visits from Canada to the Granite State in 2009.

To market the state to Canadians, the tourism division has an office in Toronto, which organizes familiarization trips with members of the Canadian media, issues brochures in French and English and creates itineraries and vacation packages appealing to the Canadian traveler.

For example, to appeal to Quebec's French demographic, the travel division put together a Franco-American Heritage Tour of Manchester that highlighted stops at Chez Vachon, the Millyard Museum, the Franco-American Centre and more.

In 2009, when the loonie was worth 88 U.S. cents, overnight visitors from Canada spent more than $95 million in New Hampshire. This was a 21 percent decrease from 2008, but 2007 and 2008 were record years, said Freligh.

The lack of ferry service between New England and Atlantic Canada also is not expected to have an effect on that region's tourism to the state, said Freligh.

In 2009, Nova Scotia ended $6 million in annual subsidies to Bay Ferries, which subsequently shut down its ferry services between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and Portland and Bar Harbor, Maine.

"The people in Atlantic Canada are used to driving and will come anyway," said Freligh. 

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