Canada: What you need to know

Happy Canada Day, everyone!

Canada has been blessed of late. Our tenacious regulatory systems and bountiful natural resources shielded us from the worst of the recent recession. All told, this boosted the strength of our dollar to heights never before reached. It used to be that a Canadian loonie would only get US$0.80. As of today, we’re sitting at US$0.97 with the federal government tactfully keeping it from getting much higher so we can keep our export economy alive.

With both the U.S. and Canadian currencies at more or less parity, it has changed the dynamic of Canadian outbound tourism (nearly 18 million overnight trips in 2009). Namely, we’re now more excited than ever to travel abroad, especially to the United States, because it’s so close, flights are frequent and the culture is wholly familiar. So, in case you’re not accustomed to dealing with Canadians and our peculiarities, let me give you a few pointers to help your guest services and also your targeted marketing strategies.

First up: road trips! Seeing as how the vast majority of Canadians live close to the U.S. border (think Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver), it’s fairly easy for us to grab a vehicle and trek down. Florida, as the most visited state in the country by Canadians, is already well aware of this, with many of its “snowbirds” zooming down the interstates over the course of two days. Take Toronto — major U.S. cities within a day’s drive include Boston; New York City; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Cleveland, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit; Chicago; Cincinnati, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland; and Washington, D.C. All of these towns have something fun to offer visitors, whether for a weekend or a week.

Coinciding with car travel are sports-themed vacations. Summer is the season of baseball, (even though here in Toronto our Blue Jays are currently in last place in their division), and many of the abovementioned cities have great teams to offer guests as an afternoon or evening of entertainment. Consider a package aimed at Canadians that includes complimentary tickets along with passes to other local attractions.

Even though summer voyaging may be big for Canadians, it isn’t a pastime exclusive to us or anybody, for that matter. Winter travel, on the other hand, is huge, particularly because of the gruesome snowstorms and negative temperatures we endure. Hence the term “snowbirds” — when the flurries hit, we fly south. But this annual migration doesn’t have to only entail Florida, California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. There are many other places where snow is a non-issue that could benefit from a surplus of Canadian geese.

Again, take sports. Yes, we have the Canadian Football League (CFL) but the live experience fails to compete with that of the NFL with the teams’ gargantuan stadiums, throngs of diehard fans and tailgating. I cannot speak for other parts of Canada, but around where I’m from (Toronto), the CFL is seen as a declining “old guard,” with NFL popularity on the rise.

But no sport broadcasted in Canada can even come close to touching hockey. Consider the Maple Leafs, Toronto’s home team. Tickets are so expensive and in demand that it is often cheaper to journey down to a U.S. city to catch the Maple Leafs play as the away team, including travel expenses and accommodations. Thus, if your property is close to an NHL arena, consider some targeted advertising in Toronto with discount packages aimed at Maple Leafs fans.

Outside of sports, there are many exceptional characteristics of Canadians worth noting, whether you are looking to bolster the high season in summer or fill the occupancy gap in the winter months. One other primary reason is the shopping. There’s more variety of stores at the average U.S. mall, and the retail prices are significantly cheaper. Be sure to clue your bellhops into this — if a Canadian shows up at your doorstep with an empty suitcase, odds are he or she is looking to fill it before the flight home.

There’s a lot more I want to discuss in terms of how to appeal to Canadian travelers because, having traveled throughout the United States, I can honestly say we are blessed to be so close to such a great country with a rich history and thousands of outstanding tourist destinations. I’m not alone either; Canadians love visiting the United States, and if you can pique our interest, then be prepared for some excellent business coming your way.