The French invasion is important to Wildwood tourism

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WILDWOOD — It isn’t too early to start preparing for the French invasion, Cape May County Tourism Director Diane Weiland told members of the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce during a Nov. 8 meeting.

Those lines of cars with license plates that say "Je me souviens" (meaning “I remember) down the Parkway mean big money to Cape May County and the Wildwoods.

Weiland said that on average about half a million Canadians come to New Jersey every year, with about 70 percent of them visiting Cape May County. Wildwood is ranked as number three most-popular vacation destination spot for French Canadians below Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach.

All those Canadian visitors mean $168 million in revenue.

The 1970s, she said, the county saw the height of the Canadian visitors and the county even had a satellite tourist office in Canada. But a poor exchange rate with the American dollar stopped them from coming in large numbers in 1995 and that office closed.

Wieland said the fact that the Canadian dollar is on par with the American dollar and that gasoline in the states is cheaper has boosted the popularity of Cape May County as a vacation destination.

Weiland said the chamber and Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority have been capitalizing on the resurgence of Canadian visitors by focusing a marketing plan in Quebec and Montreal.

But the key is to make sure the vacation experience is enjoyable so they come back even without such economic factors, she said.

“We are working with communities to get information translated and on websites in French. We want restaurants to have menus in French. Campgrounds are putting recycling regulations and swimming pool rules in French,” Wieland.

She suggested local businesses use school French clubs to help translate menus and brochures. Hotels, she said, could translate check-in forms.

“We want them to feel welcome and using French helps,” she said. “When you are greeted by a language you understand it is appreciated.”

Years ago, Canadian visitors were seen as invariably staying in the campgrounds in Cape May County.

While many French Canadian visitors still stay at campgrounds, Wieland said that noted that more are going to hotels and motels and renting condominiums.

“It started with going to a campground and then going to the Wildwood beach. They don’t just do that anymore,” she said.

And they are not day-trippers. It takes 10 to 11 hours to drive here so they stay an average of 10 days, she said.

“And they like to eat out,” Weiland added. “And go shopping.”

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