British Columbia

Bellingham businesses offer incentives after seeing drop in Canadian shoppers

"What we know is right about mid 70s, when the Canadian dollar is about 75 cents to the dollar, we know that's really where the pain point is where we see a significant drop," says president and CEO of Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce.

'We love our neighbours from the north,' says hotel manager offering a discount

Stores in Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham, WA tried to attract Canadians by offering at-par deals during the Victoria Day long weekend this year. (Bellis Fair)

Businesses in Bellingham, Washington just south of the B.C. border are seeing a significant decrease in retail spending because of the weak Canadian dollar and that's prompted some to offer special deals for their northern neighbours in an attempt to attract them to come south.

"We see anywhere from a 20, to 25, sometimes 30 per cent drop, most of the time that comes in the form of retail spending at large retailers," said Guy Occhiogrosso, the president and CEO of Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce.

Occhiogrosso said it is the large box stores that are seeing an impact, while the town's "mom and pop retailers" aren't affected as much.

Shoppers visit the Bellis Fair Mall in Bellingham in July 2016. (CBC)

"The drop in the exchange rate from … the U.S. dollar to Canadian is equitable to southbound trips, is equitable to retail spending in the large retail stores," Occhiogrosso said.

According to the latest data available from Statistics Canada, the number of Canadians who travelled to the U.S. in May 2016 was 3.413 million, compared to 3.855 million in May 2015 (a drop of over 400,000).

"What we know is right about mid 70s, when the Canadian dollar is about 75 cents to the dollar, we know that's really where the pain point is where we see a significant drop," Occhiogrosso said.

The Canadian dollar closed at 76.59 cents US by the end of the day Friday July 29.

Attracting Canadian shoppers, travellers

Some businesses in the region have come up with incentives to attract canucks to continue to come south, whether it's to shop or to fly out of Bellingham's International airport.

The Hampton Inn by Hilton Bellingham Airport is one Bellingham business offering a special rate for Canadians during certain times of the year. (Google Street View)

The Hampton Inn by Hilton Bellingham Airport is offering 20 per cent off for their regular rate on various three-day weekends (such as Canadian Thanksgiving) for those who show identification proving they are Canadian residents.

"We do see a difference when the Canadian dollar is down versus the American dollar, we do see a difference between how often people are traveling … we'd like to offer them something to bring more business to our hotel," said Alex Nephew, general manager of the hotel.

"We know that people still want to travel regardless of whether their dollar has changed, but we do want to 'incentivise' them.

"We love our neighbours from the north."

Earlier this year in May a number of stores in the Bellis Fair Mall advertised they were accepting the loonie on par with the U.S. dollar; however there was some confusion at the event over the Victoria Day weekend because the fine print of the promotion stated the discount would be applied in the form of a percentage off at point of sale.

'Economies are tied'

Businesses in the area recognize the value of Canadian shoppers, said Loni Rahm, president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism.

"Our economies are so tightly tied between Whatcom County and lower British Columbia, so that of course, we hurt when you hurt, you hurt when we hurt," Rahm said.

Rahm said a number of hotels and stores are offering at-par sales, or some other "Canadian special."

"Our retailers and our hotels are recognizing that we're dependent upon on an element of the Canadian shopper that we don't want to lose," she said.

"We have felt an impact from the standpoint of … the shopper in retail, but we also rely upon a certain amount of overnight stays, because the longer a Canadian stays here the more they can take across the border duty-free."

Occhiogrosso from the local chamber of commerce said the relationship extends both ways — just as many Canadians appreciate the goods and services available across the border, many Americans appreciate coming north as well.

"Get your Nexus card and everybody enjoy each other's company," he said.

With files from Fanny Bédard and Radio-Canada

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