It’s been 40 years since Cape May County, N.J., began courting Canadian visitors, and county tourism officials are planning a big celebration, according to shorenewstoday.com.

“Our Canadian visitors have been very loyal to Cape May County. We’re thanking them by offering substantial savings if they come to visit us this summer,” said Diane Wieland, the county’s longtime tourism director.

Dubbed “Celebrating Anniversaire 40,” Wieland said the recently-rolled out marketing campaign is already paying big dividends.

The county produced “Passport to Savings,” a coupon booklet featuring valuable discounts at 100 local businesses — everything from dinner at a restaurant to an overnight stay in a motel or a round of mini-golf. Wieland said the coupon books have been a big hit with our Northern neighbors.

Wieland said 25,000 of the 40th Anniversary “Passport to Savings” were printed. The coupon booklet will be translated into French and handed directly to thousands of attendees at the Montreal Sportsmen’s show and distributed to vacation planners at the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) offices located throughout Quebec.

The Gazette reported the story in the fall; reports of the milestone have been heralded across the globe.

“The Associated Press picked it up, and the Canadian Press has reported on it,” said Wieland. “The story really has legs. It was reported in USA Today. The neat thing is that we have been able to spread the word about Cape May County to areas of Canada that don’t know about us. We’ve had some interesting calls from tourism officials. You try very hard with everything you market, we never expected this PR juggernaut, but we’re surely happy to have it.”

Wieland said the county has always maintained a good rapport with tourism officials in Montreal and the province of Quebec.

“Now we’re hearing from Ontario,” Wieland said. “People all over Canada are asking about Cape May County.”

Wieland said county officials are prepared to provide answers. Cognizant that many don’t know much about Cape May County because they have never visited, Wieland encouraged county motels to partner in a promotion.

“We are hosting a contest to regional tourism offices,” she said. “We’re offering a five-day stay in motel and hoping that we generate a lot of interest. If they come, and they like it they’ll go home and write about it and encourage others to come visit.”

According to recent research conducted by the Cape May County Department of Tourism, Quebec has become the county’s fourth largest visitor market right after New York in terms of the amount of visitors. Wieland attributed the increase in travelers from this region to the county’s first-class Canadian marketing campaign, which included public relations, advertising and consumer travel shows in Canada over the past 40 years.

“Our research shows marketing efforts, managed by the Department of Tourism in cooperation with a public relations consultant in Montreal, are paying big dividends in terms of awareness of Cape May County as a vacation destination,” said Wieland.

Canadian tourism has also been affected by the exchange rates. Some years, the rate was unfavorably lopsided, which did little to encourage Canadians to cross the border. In recent years, the exchange rate has been favorable.

Wieland said the public relations consultant for the Cape May County Department of Tourism in Canada, Nicolle Dufour, is working with more than 100 media outlets to generate interest among Canadian journalists.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Wieland. “This is probably the biggest news we’ve had since the Canadians discovered Cape May County back in the 1960’s.”

Prior to coming to Cape May County, most Canadians visited resorts in Maine and upstate New York. When the Garden State Parkway pushed southward into Cape May County, it opened up a whole new world of tourism.

“The Canadians did not like the cold water in Maine, they were looking for warmer water and the parkway brought them right to us,” said Wieland. “When they built the parkway, they needed a lot of fill and to construct the roadway, they dug a lot of lakes. Campgrounds were then built around the lakes and the Canadians started coming to Wildwood and the campgrounds. They’ve been coming ever since.”