The United States reopened its land border to fully vaccinated international travelers in November, after two summers in which Canadian tourists were unable to visit beaches like those in Hampton, York and Ogunquit. Canadians have historically vacationed in New Hampshire and Maine, which offer some of the closest beaches to provinces like Quebec.
Last July, Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce President John Nyhan said a survey of businesses at Hampton Beach showed 20% of revenue was lost from the community because of restrictions on Canadian visitors.
The Maine Office of Tourism found that Canadian visitors spent almost $1.2 billion in Maine in 2019. They spent $329 million in stores in Maine, according to the agency, nearly one-fifth of all tourism-related retail expenditures in the state.
“We miss our Canadian friends,” said Laurence Plotkin, owner of the Trellis House and the Blue Shutters Inn at Ogunquit Beach. He said Canadians can make up as much as 15% of their business each season, though he noted it depends on the currency exchange rate.
Rising costs, exchange rate still a hurdle for Canadian visitors
Today’s exchange rate is not ideal for Canadians, Plotkin said, as Monday their dollar was only worth 77 cents in U.S. currency.
He said challenges also remain for Canadian tourists due to rising costs in the United States. Gas continues to be expensive with the national average being $4.98 per gallon, and Plotkin said that could make it difficult for Canadians driving to Maine. He said rising costs in the hospitality industry, like labor, utilities and food, may also be prohibitive to Canadians.
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“The Canadians are value-seeking as it relates to hospitality,” Plotkin said. “It’s going to take some time to unwind these obstacles.”
Plotkin said Canadian tourists remain determined to make it back to their favorite American beaches, though. He said when the coronavirus pandemic closed travel between the two countries, many Canadians told him to keep their deposits to go toward their next opportunity to visit.
“I think there’s a great deal of loyalty from the Canadian travelers,” Plotkin said.
The CAT returns to Bar Harbor
Holly Roberts, executive director of the York Region Chamber of Commerce, said York has already seen some visitors from Nova Scotia and Quebec this season. She said the return of The CAT ferry’s service from Nova Scotia to Bar Harbor, Maine, this year adds to the buzz for Canadian travel.
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The CAT, which also carries travelers with vehicles, halted its connection with Bar Harbor in 2009. It briefly began carrying tourists from Canada to Portland, Maine, until that was halted again in 2018. The coronavirus pandemic further prolonged the hiatus, but The CAT announced in the spring it was bringing back the connection.
“We know that they are anxious to return,” Roberts said of Canadian tourists. “It is impossible to predict the turnout, however, we all anticipate a very busy season.”
Hampton Beach 'looking forward' to return of Canadians
At Hampton Beach, where the Canadian flag flies on a pole in front of the Seashell Stage, Pelham Resort owner Chuck Rage also said businesses are looking forward to Canadians returning. The highest volume of Canadian tourists often comes during Construction Holiday, a two-week vacation period celebrated in Quebec that starts the last Sunday in July.
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Rage said he lost several bookings in 2020 to Canadians who had reservations but were suddenly restricted from travel. Like Plotkin in Ogunquit, he had many tell him to keep their deposits for their next chance to visit Hampton Beach.
“They love the beaches here,” Rage said.
Jimmy Trainor, who owns the Boardwalk Café in Hampton Beach, said Canadians tend to be good for restaurants, as they often stay for a week or more and spend more on restaurants than day-trippers. Rage, who also owns a Rexall Drug store, said they tend to buy a lot of souvenirs when they visit.
Tom McGuirk, who owns McGuirk’s Ocean View at Hampton Beach, said the Canadians will serve as a noticeable bump for businesses at the beach this summer. He said with the rising costs faced by restaurant owners, Canadians serve as a welcome additional revenue stream.
“They come in droves,” McGuirk said. “That’s going to make a huge difference for the economy down here.”
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Hampton, York and Ogunquit beaches welcome back Canadians after COVID