Stronger currency sends Canadian visitors to N.H.

Summer in New Hampshire may bring Canadian tourists down across the border and the state’s economy climbing up.

Canada is New Hampshire’s top international visitor market, and brings business to lodging, food and retail destinations across the state. Last fiscal year saw a record 461,000 overnight Canadian visitors in the state, with total traveler spending estimated at $4.45 billion, according to the Institute for New Hampshire Studies at Plymouth State University.

Mark Okrant, director of the institute, looks at the favorable currency exchange rate as a predictor for Canadian visitation in New Hampshire. The numbers show that Canadians have a greater tendency to visit when their dollar value approaches 78 cents and a lesser tendency below that point.

“Over the last 15 years, the Canadian dollar has fluctuated in value from 65 cents all the way to a little over $1,” Okrant said. “When the exchange rate was poorest in 1998 to 1999, we saw visitation really drop off. In 2004, we started getting close to that 78-cent figure again, and the number of overnight visitors increased to almost 330,000. As we got closer to 2007, the exchange rate became much more favorable for Canadians and visitation topped out in the vicinity of 460,000.”

The value of the Canadian dollar reached an eight-month high this June, hitting the 90-cent range. Lori Harnois, the international and domestic marketing manager at the New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism, said, “We’re expecting a good summer season for Canadian visitors coming down. The exchange rate is somewhat close to the U.S. dollar, so that’s a positive thing for us. Also, the fact that people are looking to stay closer to home this summer – we are a good destination for that.”

Marketing to Canada

Mike Somers, president of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, “We’re hoping for very good weather and we’re certainly hoping that the price of gas here stays relatively low.”

But gas prices in Canada are on the rise again this year. Okrant called this the second determining factor for Canadians visiting the state.

“The average cost of a liter of gas in Canada has increased by over 50 percent from 2005 to 2008,” Okrant said. “Comparatively, it was cheaper for people to come down here and travel. The exchange rate was more favorable, the gas price here was more favorable than ever before, so it is only natural that we would see more Canadian visitors than ever before.”

The Division of Travel and Tourism has kept up marketing efforts in Canada that are expected to pay off. Harnois said that one Toronto PR firm generates stories ideas that consistently place New Hampshire into Canadian publications. Okrant praised such efforts that show the state “has been very good about maintaining a presence in Canada.”

Okrant said, “What has happened in the U.S. over the years is that people who are short-sighted will say, ‘Oh, the Canadians aren’t coming, we won’t spend money to get them to come down here,’ whereas those who have a greater knowledge of the Canadian phenomenon will say, ‘We need to keep sending a message to Canada so they continue to market up there.’ When things turn around, Canadians will be more likely to visit those people who have been marketing to them.”

Canada also has done its part in keeping border-crossing travel convenient. A change implemented in June requires passports to cross the U.S. border.

“Canada has done a great job at communicating the regulation,” said Harnois. “There were concerns in the initial stages that this might affect us, but the people at the border say the traffic is going as usual.”

Predicting this year’s tourism business was deflected as “too difficult to tell” by all sources. However, Okrant pointed to New Hampshire’s above-average receipt of visitor trips – almost double its share of the national population just last year.

“Quebec provides New Hampshire close to 50 percent of its visitors,” Okrant said. “I think it’s safe to say that the Canadian market will continue to be important for New Hampshire. Whether or not we see a decrease in numbers, the significance of Canadian visitors will not be diminished at all.”