While the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday receives no official recognition in Canada, shoppers from north of the border still like to take advantage of an American Thanksgiving-weekend tradition: Black Friday shopping.
And since many Canadians don’t want to drive home after a long day (or night) of bargain hunting, local hotels often enjoy full houses during the long Thanksgiving weekend, a welcome boost in the tourism off-season.
The Red Lion Hotel Kalispell at east end of Kalispell Center Mall is perfectly placed to capture the influx of Canadian shoppers.
General Manager Lisa Brown said the Red Lion, which offers special rates to the hard-core customers who book a year ahead for the shopping marathon, already is completely booked for the weekend.
“Usually they’ll come down on Thanksgiving and we’ll give them a Thanksgiving dinner,” she said. “Then they’re here and ready for whatever hours retail opens.”
The Red Lion will be prepared to get shoppers out the door early, starting breakfast service at 4 a.m. on Black Friday.
The hotel might actually be serving breakfast to some shoppers who are on their way back to their rooms this year, since many Kalispell Center Mall stores open at midnight on Thursday, staying open all night and throughout Friday.
The Hilton Garden Inn in Kalispell is projecting to be full all weekend. It doesn’t offer any special packages to lure Canadians, but just offers the best rate it can afford.
“We do ongoing marketing in Canada to up the awareness all the time,” director of sales Karen Bemis said.
The Downtowner in Whitefish snags a big Canadian clientele year-round, assistant manager Linda West said, attributing approximately 90 percent of its business to Canadian traffic. It offers a 10 percent discount to customers who mention the hotel’s Facebook page, but no Black Friday weekend specials.
Almost every weekend already is busy with Canadians, West said.
“We fill up with a lot of walk-ins because people come to Whitefish and they don’t want to drive, and they can walk downtown.”
The Hampton Inn in Kalispell can’t take full advantage of this year’s Black Friday consumer traffic, since it is remodeling. But the rooms still will be about three-quarters full, according to sales manager Zac Ford.
Canadians are lured to the Hampton Inn with a special exchange package plus a $50 Costco card that pays for a day of shopping without having to purchase a membership, Ford said.
“We do a lot of advertising in Canadian papers,” Ford said.
Canadian travelers taking three-day weekends are frequent customers at the Hampton.
“People are always making quick trips across the border,” he said.
Diane Medler, director of the Kalispell Convention and Visitor Bureau, said her organization has been actively pursuing shopping traffic in Canada the last few years. Having an exhibit at the Calgary Women’s Show, a lifestyle expo in October, was “very effective.”
“We educated Calgarians to the different retail options,” she said. “It always surprises them if they haven’t been here for over 10 years.”
Despite the extensive shopping opportunities in a large metropolitan area such as Calgary, Medler said interest in the Flathead Valley from Calgary residents, a target market for the visitor bureau, is increasing. With current exchange rates, Canadians still will save money shopping in Montana.
And, she said, Black Friday is a well-known phenomenon in Canada.
“They like to come down here and feel like they get a bargain, particularly with Black Friday sales,” she said.
Reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4439 or by email at email@example.com.