For decades, at least for a couple of weeks a year, Cape May County has had a bit of a French accent, with travelers from Quebec making up a noticeable portion of summer visitors in late July and early August.
Last year, U.S. and Canadian officials kept the border shut because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, no one is quite sure what will happen.
“We’re still waiting to hear. They’re looking at July 21,” said Diane Wieland, Cape May County’s longtime tourism director. “It doesn’t sound promising.”
July 21 is when Canada’s extended travel restrictions are set to expire. There remains a possibility that the rules may either be extended further or modified. In a Thursday call with provincial and territorial premiers, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was working with U.S. officials on a reopening plan, according to an official summary of the call.
If current trends hold, he said, Canada may allow fully vaccinated Americans to enter that country by mid-August. As for Canadians traveling internationally, he discussed implementing a proof-of-vaccination credential.
On the U.S. side, lawmakers and others have pushed for an opening, even while President Joe Biden has said little on the topic since meeting with Trudeau at the G7 summit in England last month. In a June 21 news release, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York pushed to allow almost anyone who has been vaccinated to be classified as an essential traveler and to develop a plan to completely reopen the border soon.
The border has been closed to most travelers since March 20, 2020.
LOWER TOWNSHIP — A new fight is brewing this summer over a line in the sand in the township’…
Throughout New Jersey, over a two-week period, Canadians make up 5% to 10% of the visitors to campgrounds, according to Joann DelVescio, executive director of the New Jersey Campground Owners Association.
In Cape May County, that percentage is far higher, she said. In a typical year, campgrounds in the county see anywhere from 15% to 25% of their guests visiting from Canada, she said.
While it may seem like a loss of up to a quarter of your business would have a big impact, DelVescio said campgrounds are not suffering. She and others said an increased interest in recreational vehicles and tent camping among Americans has meant most campgrounds were close to or at capacity for much of last summer. This summer is looking good, too.
“The campground owners are happy with how the season is going,” DelVescio said. “We are certainly missing our Canadian visitors, but because of the demand, our campgrounds are filling up.”
She said an increasing number of travelers like the idea of having their own accommodations. Someone arriving in an RV or with a pop-up camping trailer knows no one else has been inside.
“Last year when the border closed, I think there was a concern: ‘Are we going to have a shortfall in the visitor base?’ That did not happen. All of those reservations, room rentals and camping slots were taken by domestic travelers,” said Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce.
In fact, she said, if the border does open to vaccinated travelers Wednesday, those traveling from Canada may have trouble finding accommodations near the shore in the middle of a summer that appears likely to set records for revenue and visits.
“We are now heading into the busiest time in the summer. Most places are booked up. It would be very difficult for Canadian visitors to travel to Cape May County without a reservation,” Clark said.
NORTH WILDWOOD — It was a typical June Sunday at the Jersey Shore, and as the sun began to s…
That does not mean the county will not miss seeing visitors from Quebec, she said.
“We highly value our Canadian guests,” she said. The long tradition of Canadian visitors is reflected in the names of businesses throughout the county, such as the Montreal Beach Resort in Cape May and the Quebec Motel in Wildwood.
In 1968, Wieland said, Cape May County businesses had noticed a number of visitors from the Canadian province of Quebec. The county decided to court French-speaking Canadians to visit its beaches.
“By the 1970s, we had a part-time office in Montreal,” Wieland said, the start of decades of marketing aimed at Canadians. By 1995, the exchange rate between the U.S. and Canadian dollars made keeping the office open prohibitively expensive, Wieland said. Since then, the county has relied on a Canadian public relations firm to promote the southern New Jersey shore as a vacation spot.
Many Canadians get a two-week vacation each summer, helping make the long drive to Cape May County feasible. It’s about a nine-hour drive from Montreal, Wieland said, most of that a straight shot down Route 87 to 287 to meet the Garden State Parkway.
Wieland said a beach vacation has been a tradition in many Canadian families for generations.
“We’re hearing that they miss us, too,” she said.
Indications are that Canadian campers are also ready to hit the road again as soon as possible. A recent report from KOA found 51% of Canadian campers are optimistic for 2021 and plan to take a camping trip this summer as restrictions ease. The report focuses on trips to national parks and other attractions in Canada, but the same attitudes are likely to extend to international travelers as well.
It says 77% of Canadian campers plan on taking additional trips in the late summer until fall to make up for time lost due to the pandemic.
If the border does not open soon, Wieland said, the county may have another year without Canadians.
“Once we get past Aug. 21, it’s over, because they basically have the same school calendar that we do,” Wieland said. “We’re assuming schools will open in Canada.”
Clark said the economy is changing, suggesting some Quebecois could come in August, September or later.
Getting lost on the beach was once a rite of passage for anyone visiting the Jersey Shore.
According to Wieland, some local businesses have been in communication with families who have visited from Canada for decades, sometimes for generations, keeping the connections alive even if fewer make it to the county this year.
In 2019, Wieland said, Canadians accounted for 7% to 9% of county summer visitors, a significant number in a tourism industry worth billions of dollars a year.
Last year, due to COVID-19, business was down by just over 20% across the board. It sounds like a big hit, Wieland said, but better than the 30% decline projected earlier in the year.
The recovery also is coming faster than anticipated, Wieland said, with big crowds in beach resorts this summer and local accommodations booked solid most nights. She expects that recovery to continue into 2022, and if county businesses have any say in it, for Canadian visitors to be part of that recovery.
Contact Bill Barlow: