Ontario license plates are as common as South Carolina tags along Ocean Boulevard this time of year when the snowbirds flock south for the winter season.
But the weak Canadian dollar has slowed that traffic to a trickle.
“We like it here, the people are friendly, and it’s a great way to spend the winter,” said John Whitehouse, who is staying at the Vancouver Motel on South Ocean Boulevard through March. “But it’s a big thing to stay over a winter when the $8,000 to $10,000 cost suddenly becomes $13,000 or $14,000.
“I’m sure Myrtle Beach is feeling it too. We’re not seeing so many Canadians this year.”
The Grand Strand relies on Canadian visitors -- it’s the top international tourism market for the Grand Strand -- especially during the slow winter season when snowbirds typically cross the border for warmer locations. The Grand Strand’s tight ties to Canada have even been celebrated for more than 50 years with the Canadian-American Days festival here in March.
But the growing gap in the exchange rate has prompted some Canadians to spend less while here, not stay as long or skip the trip because it’s too costly.
The Canadian dollar this week was worth 71 cents for a U.S. dollar.
John and Sandra Whitehouse of Ontario, who have spent their winter vacations in Myrtle Beach since 1986, say the weak exchange rate of the Canadian dollar prompted them to buy their U.S. dollars early in anticipation of their annual trek. Unless their currency rebounds, this might be their last year.
We’re not seeing so many Canadians this year.
John Whitehouse, Canadian visitor
Local businesses are concerned about the devaluation of the Canadian dollar, prompting the Myrtle Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau to offer special discounts to tourists from north of the border to be used at Grand Strand hotels, restaurants and attractions.
Kimberly Hartley, Canadian account manager for the bureau, said officials devised the marketing plan dubbed “Dollar for Dollar” to make up for the financial loss in exchanging Canadian currency for U.S. dollars.
“A lot of partners came on board with enthusiasm, because they get a lot of Canadians and don’t want to lose them,” Hartley said. “We are the only destination I am aware of doing anything as aggressively as discounts up to 60 percent off.”
71 centsCanadian dollar value for U.S. dollar
Scott Duncan and Lee-Anne Shaw of Kingston, Ontario say they are only vacationing in Myrtle Beach because their mother is spending the winter here, so they don’t have to shoulder the cost of a hotel.
They also didn’t loose any money by exchanging their Canadian dollars in for American greenbacks.
Instead of gifts this Christmas, they asked family and friends for U.S. currency to spend on groceries and area attractions.
Neither was aware of the special discounts being offered to Canadians this season, which have mostly been promoted through consumer and travel trade media and the bureau’s website.
“They have to advertise a little better,” Duncan said.
The couple spent Tuesday fishing off the Springmaid Beach Resort Pier, an activity that cost them $55 in U.S. currency, $77 in Canadian money, for bait, poles, licenses, snacks and the pier fee.
Mom’s not booking for next year, because of the exchange rate.
Scott Duncan, Canadian visitor
“How else can you entertain yourself the whole day for $55?” Duncan asked. “But this won’t include dinner, unless we order take-out.”
John Whitehouse and his wife were not aware of any discounts for Canadians, but shrugged off any savings they might realize.
“We have to shop a little more for bargains,” John Whitehouse said. “Even if something is on sale for 30 percent off, we have to add 30 percent because of the dollar, and then add taxes, so there’s not a lot of bargains.”
If the Canadian dollar’s strength does not improve, Whitehouse said it’s questionable whether they will return to Myrtle Beach next year.
Duncan says he and his wife might come back, but not his mother, who has spent the past eight winters on the Grand Strand.
“Mom’s not booking for next year, because of the exchange rate,” Duncan said.
Audrey Hudson: 843-444-1765 @AudreyHudson