Despite a rally in the Canadian dollar in late April and early May, the number of Canadians traveling to Whatcom County continues to shrink.
The number of people traveling southbound across Whatcom County’s five border crossings totaled 1,098,470 in May, down 10.7 percent compared to a year ago and down 22.4 percent from May 2014. Through the first five months of 2016, border traffic is down 12.8 percent compared to the same period a year ago.
In late April the Canadian dollar was near 80 cents compared to the U.S. dollar, up from around 68 cents earlier this year. Despite having about the same purchasing power as May 2015, when the Canadian dollar was also at around 80 cents, the decline continues.
Canadian border traffic has a strong influence on retail sales in Whatcom County, particularly at the big-box stores. Currently the loonie is around 78 cents.
Some local retailers have tried to counter the lower Canadian dollar with sales to lure visitors from the north, including the At Par Sale that took place last month at Bellis Fair during Canada’s Victoria Day weekend.
The current traffic level is probably the new normal for a while, said Laurie Trautman, associate director at the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University.