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Canadians ‘Loonie’ About Exchange Rate

October 30, 2007 by   - () Leave a Comment

Frank and Dianne Sharp didn’t come to Bonita Springs, Fla., much earlier this winter, but the Canadian snowbirds say they might spend more money while they are here, according to the Bonita Daily News.
The strength of the Canadian dollar, or “loonie,” means the Sharps can enjoy a big discount on everything they buy.
“When I go to the Dollar Store, it’s really the Dollar Store now,” said Dianne Sharp. “Usually buying something that is priced a dollar seems like paying $1.50. This year, a dollar is a dollar.”
The Sharps have been making the long trek from Port Elgin, Ontario, to Bonita Springs for the past seven winters. They arrived at their home in the Imperial Bonita Estates Cooperative Park during the first week in October.
They say they have paid up to 1.62 Canadian dollars for each U.S. dollar in the past. This year, they have been buying American money on a 1-to-1 basis.
The better rate has spurred the Sharps to make improvements on their small winter home. They are installing a new floor and replacing the windows in their Florida room. The Sharps are also replacing the windows in a separate sunroom.
The gregarious couple needs more room for the monthly breakfasts they serve to about 50 friends at Imperial Bonita. According to the Sharps, about one-third of the park’s residents are Canadian.
“Everything is better for Canadians this year,” said Frank Sharp. “We really watch the U.S. dollar very closely. In other years, $20,000 seemed like $15,000. This year, it’s the opposite.”
The Sharps come earlier than most Canadians, who typically start arriving in early November at area RV parks and campgrounds. According to local property managers, that pattern holds true this year. Most parks in Bonita Springs are still marked by quiet streets and shuttered windows.
“They’ll be coming the same time they usually do,” said Bob Handley of Bonita Lake RV Resort. “They’ve already made their reservations. But we’ll probably see a little more spending from them this year.”
Lawrence Barker, executive director of the Canadian Snowbird Association, said Canadians come to Florida in three waves. The first, smallest migration occurs after Canadian Thanksgiving, the second Monday in October. The main migration occurs in November and the third happens just after Christmas.
“They are not going to be coming much earlier because Canadians are only allowed to stay for six months,” said Barker.
“To come too soon means they might have snow to come back to when they return. The dollar is not going to shift that pattern, but some of the snowbirds on fixed incomes might extend their stays to the full six months.”
The 70,000-member Canadian Snowbird Association is the only organization of its kind, said Barker. Firm statistics on the number of Canadian snowbirds do not exist, but the Canadian Elections Board reports that approximately 100,000 Canadian snowbirds filed absentee ballots last year, said Barker.
According to the Lee Visitors and Convention Bureau, Canadian travel to the U.S. has grown 23% in the last five years. Canadian visitors are also spending 5.8% more than they did in 2002, when the loonie, or Canadian dollar, was worth just 64 cents.
Earlier thius month, the Canadian Wholesale Currency Exchange in Fort Myers was giving Canadian clients $1.03 for every loonie. The company’s president, Dave Gormley, says business is booming.
“Happy days are here again,” he said. “I have a large base of Canadian snowbird customers and they are all happy that the Canadian dollar is the best it has been in 35 years. Hopefully, that will trickle down to the local economy.”
Gormley’s company serves about 20,000 Canadian clients. Most are scattered throughout Florida. His clients are typically middle or upper-middle class retirees, a demographic that spends between $10,000 and $20,000 each winter, he says.
That number might increase this year.
“They are not particularly rich but they have managed to plan for retirement a little better than most people,” said Gormley.
“With the current exchange rate, they’re all talking about big ticket purchases, cars and boats, and the ones who don’t already own property here are talking about buying.”
Frank Sharp agrees.
“I think what you’ll see is more Canadians looking to buy, real estate wise,” he said. “Canadians might seem a little frugal in that we want to actually have the money before we buy something. But the exchange rate might move some people who are on the fence.”

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