Canadian Bargain-Hunters Flock to New Hampshire

TILTON, N.H. (AP) — Canadian tourists say the exchange rate is in their favor right now, giving their currency extra buying power.

Nova Scotia residents Dale and Diane Ward say they spent close to $300 shopping at the outlet stores in Tilton last week.

The Wards plan to return to spend 10 nights in North Conway in October. The exchange rate is allowing the couple to stay extra days without having to pay more.

In October 2002, the U.S. dollar was worth $1.58 Canadian. As of Friday, an American dollar was worth $1.02 Canadian -- a 35% boost for Canadians.

New Hampshire's Canadian travel representative says overnight visits by Canadians are expected to increase between 5 and 8% this year.

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"The economy in Canada is faring much better than in the United States," Chris Ryall said.

Canada is New Hampshire's strongest international visitor market.

The first three quarters of 2007 saw a 20% jump in the number of visits by Canadians staying over at least one night compared to the same period in 2006.

The Loonie — the name for the Canadian dollar — buys a third more than it did five years ago. Gas prices in New Hampshire generally are 90 cents to $1.50 cheaper a gallon than in eastern Canada.

"I will tell you, through spring, that's all we had: French-speaking Canadians through the hotel," said Sally Alward, director of sales at the Hampton Inn & Suites in North Conway. Canadian visitor totals at the hotel are up at least 9.5% this year.

Officials at the White Mountains Attractions Association expect a 20% annual increase in the number of Canadian travelers, accounting for 10 to 12% of overall business.

At month's end, Canadians will be making up a bigger slice of the crowd at the newly renamed New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. Last year, they accounted for 4.8% of the 101,000 fans at each of the two biggest NASCAR races, according to Fred Neergaard, the speedway's public relations director.

"I expect (the percentage) definitely to be higher" this year, he said.

Not everyone has seen a surge in Canadian bookings.

"It is definitely down compared to last year," said Jen Bower, front office manager at Beach View Motor Inn in Hampton.

"It's about the same," said Peter Shaikh, manager of The Tides Motel in Hampton.

Mary DeVries, executive director of the Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce, said inquiries for information are up this year, but so far the region has not seen a significant jump in visitors.

The Conference Board of Canada warned in April that "the rate of growth in outbound trips is slowing, suggesting that weaker consumer confidence is affecting even outbound travel."

The Canadian Automobile Association's South Central Ontario club is seeing fewer Canadians looking for directions to U.S. destinations, down 11% over this time last year, according to communications director Leanne Maidment.

Information from: New Hampshire Union Leader, www.unionleader.com

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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