Canadian, U.S. dollars on equal ground

Weekend getaways to Victoria, B.C., or cross-border shopping trips north to Vancouver, B.C., will no longer come with a built-in discount.

As of Thursday, for the first time in 31 years, the Canadian dollar is worth as much as the greenback. That last happened in November 1976.

The U.S. dollar’s recent decline against the Canadian dollar means Americans will pay more for imports from that nation, and it may dampen travel from Washington to its northern neighbor.

But the loonie’s new worth may provide an extra boost to Snohomish County’s tourist economy.

That’s because thousands of Canadians cross the border and come here to see the sights and hit the malls, where prices and selection tend to be better than in their home country.

At the new Holiday Inn Express in Marysville, located close to Seattle Premium Outlets and Tulalip Casino, more than one-third of the guests hail from Canada on a typical weeknight, said Tanya Christenson, director of sales and marketing for the inn. On weekends, that percentage soars to about 60 percent.

“Shopping is a very big reason why. They’re coming down for the malls. Some come down in tour groups that will go to the malls, the casino and then try out Seattle,” she said.

Amy Harris, sales manager with the Hawthorn Inn &Suites in Smokey Point, said she just booked stays for two fall bus tours from Canada. The number coming down and staying to shop and gamble has been impressive, she said.

“We probably had more sellout dates than any other summer, and we’re still experiencing that,” Harris said of the inn, which opened in 2000.

Last week, Snohomish County Tourism Bureau officials visited British Columbia to meet with Canadian media and tour operators to promote this area. Tracy Banfield, the bureau’s convention sales and media manager, said people they talked to there are especially aware of Alderwood mall and the outlet stores.

Alderwood mall in Lynnwood doesn’t track exactly where shoppers are coming from, but spokeswoman Koren Spas said the Nordstrom store — the closest one to Canada along the I-5 corridor — and others are a draw for shoppers from the north.

“Our department store anchors, for sure, have noticed an increase in Canadian shoppers,” she said.

At the Seattle Premium Outlets on the Tulalip Indian Reservation, it’s not hard to spot cars with British Columbia license plates. Some of the Canadians shopping said they planned to come down anyway, but that the currency parity didn’t hurt.

“That’s good news,” said Fred Krause, 78, of Edmonton, Alberta, when told of the exchange rate. He comes down every September with his wife and family to go shopping.

“I had a hunch,” he said, that the currencies would equalize, adding to the good timing of his family’s trip.

Bob and Vicky Hicks of Kamloops, B.C., who come down four or five times a year, said traffic at the Sumas border crossing was a little heavier than usual for a weekday. “The lineup at the border was superlong,” about 45 minutes, Vicky Hicks said.

Some outlet store employees noticed a slight uptick in Canadian shoppers.

“I’d say a little bit,” said Jessica Hayes, first assistant manager at the BCBG clothing store.

Canadians represent a majority of shoppers at the Nike store no matter the day, clerk Mary Buck said. Still, “it is pretty steady for a Thursday,” she said.

Most of the outlet stores don’t take Canadian currency. An exception, the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, charged 8 percent to accept Canadian cash Thursday. That was down from 11 percent Tuesday, employees said.

Outlet store employees expect a busy weekend. Lila Gottenbos, 28, of Surrey, B.C., said the currency parity was being widely reported by news media in Canada.

Gottenbos and her friend said they would have come down Thursday regardless. They visit several times a year to shop for clothes.

Still, the rise of the Canadian dollar “works to our advantage,” said her friend, Stephanie Erickson, 27, also of Surrey.

The Future of Flight Aviation Center &Boeing Tour also has accepted Canadian currency, known as the loonie because of the bird pictured on the one-dollar coin, since it opened. Sandy Ward, the Mukilteo attraction’s marketing director, said 7.5 percent of the visitors there since April have come from Canada.

Ward also welcomes the potential positive effect the loonie’s rise could have on the Future of Flight, but former tourism director said it won’t be good for British Columbia.

“What’s happening is they’re losing us as visitors,” she said.

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@heraldnet.com.

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