Weak U.S. dollar lures Canadian retirees in RVs

Sun Feb 3, 2008 8:45pm EST
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By Tim Gaynor

NACO, Ariz (Reuters) - Canadian retiree Penny Macdonald and husband Stew have spent winters in the United States for 25 years, but never before have vacations been such good value for "snowbirds" flocking to trailer parks across America's sunbelt.

Settled for the season into the Turquoise Valley Golf Course and RV Park in their luxury motorhome, Macdonald takes note of how a weak U.S. dollar has made life richer for the thousands of Canadians who routinely spend winters in America.

"There's a lot of taxes on liquor and gas in Canada, so it has always been cheaper in the United States, but now with the strong (Canadian) dollar it's even more so," said Macdonald, who migrated from her home in Ontario to Naco, just a stone's throw from the Mexican border, in her bus-sized motorhome.

Across Arizona, Texas and Florida -- all traditional hotspots for wintering Canadian retirees -- the story is similar, according to tourist authorities and owners of popular motorhome parks and hotels that host visitors during the mild southern months from November through April.

"It seems that every third person through the door is a Canadian," said Deborah Ireland, of the chamber of commerce in Quartzsite, a Mojave desert town west of Phoenix whose population swells from a few thousand to more than a million in the winter months.

At the heart of the surge has been a 17.5 percent rise in the Canadian currency against the U.S. dollar in 2007, taking the so-called Canadian "loonie" to a modern-day high near $1.10 in November. It was the first time in more than three decades that the Canadian currency was worth more than the U.S. dollar. The currencies have since settled near parity.

Motorhome parks are even turning away many visitors who haven't booked ahead to reserve a site.

"It's turning into a record year for Canadians," said Angelina Masales, Quartzsite's executive director of tourism. "Unfortunately, if they haven't made their reservations ahead of time, there aren't enough places for them to park."   Continued...

<p>Doug Bushey (R) and his wife Kanwal of Kamloops, British Colombia, Canada enjoy the afternoon outside their mobile home in Mesa, Arizona in this February 1, 2008 picture. REUTERS/Rick Wilking</p>