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Whitefish Tourism Numbers Slow As Canadian Dollar Slumps

The project near Whitefish Mountain Resort is designed to reduce fire danger and protect the City of Whitefish's watershed.
By Donnie Clapp for Whitefish Mountain Resort

The decline of the Canadian dollar can be seen in the empty rooms in hotels and lodges on the U.S. side of the border, in Whitefish.

Some accommodation businesses in the area are struggling to fill rooms while visitation at Whitefish festivals this fall and winter was down about 20 percent.

“We still have a number of loyal Canadian guests who are coming, but they’re not staying as long, not spending as much money when they’re here,” Betsy Cox, who runs Good Medicine Lodge near Whitefish Lake, said. 

The Canadian dollar is currently worth about 71 U.S. cents. So, it would cost about a dollar forty Canadian money to by one U.S. dollar. The currency has declined about 16 percent over the past year, reaching an 11-year low last week, according a Canadian Financial Post report.

Cox says her regular Canadian guests tell her they’re a little strapped for cash. And there’s a particular kind of guest she is not seeing at all.

“We’re not seeing the young people who we know to be to be connected with oil employment," Cox said. "We’re not seeing them.”

To try and make it easier for Canadian visitors sometimes she offers rooms at par cost to the Canadian dollar. Meaning, if a room is 130 U.S. dollars a night, she will accept 130 Canadian dollars.

“So we are losing about 25 percent on that. They stuck with us when times were bad down here, they came and they spent money down here. So we want to be patient with them," Cox said. 

If the Canadian dollar continues to drop, Cox isn't sure she’ll be able to keep accepting at par payment.

Whitefish Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kevin Gartland says Cox’s situation isn't unique in Whitefish, and the price of oil is largely why.

“The price of oil is what has stopped development up in Canada. It's something you can’t foresee that far ahead. But, I’ll tell you the Canadian trade kept us going during the recession. It kept our real estate market from really tanking and the Canadian folks were here in throngs when our economy was suffering and theirs was strong," Gartland said. "So, it's a cyclical thing and it will come back again, but for right now we're going to see that impact us for a while. It doesn’t look like the price of oil is going up. But, we have to understand that that has an effect on us and we are going to have to be looking for ways to fill that void because the folks from Canada have been an important part of our economy for the last few years.”

Gartland says the consistent snowfall recently has helped bump up some of the visitation numbers. But, at this point it's more of a wait and see game through the holidays. He says local businesses hope it keeps snowing.

“We’ve seen reservations for the winter season start to pick up, not certainly to the levels the last few years. But I think we’re going to be okay," Gartland said. "It’s going to be a little bit nervous for a while until we see how we are after the holidays. The holidays seem to be taking care of themselves although, again, traffic is down just slightly."

Gartland says the 10 days that create the peak of visitation during the winter season will start around the 28 of December.