Canadian tourism numbers slowly sinking; tourism association calls for action
Eight years ago, Canada was seventh in the world in International Tourist Arrivals.
Last year, Canada was 15th.
That's not a good sign. But a look at the actual arrival numbers paints a far more disturbing picture, according to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC). President/CEO David Goldstein spoke to members of the Star Editorial Board today, and the numbers he displayed weren't pretty.
In that same period, the number of international visitors going through customs in the U.S. went from 41.9 million to 54.9 million; an INCREASE OF 31 per cent.
Other countries also had large jumps. Turkey wasn't in the top 15 in 2002 but had risen to 7th by 2009, with 25.5 million visitors; almost 10 million more than Canada.
The U.K.'s numbers rose from 24.2 million in 2002 to 28 million in 2009, while China went from 36.8 million in 2002 to 50.9 million in 2009.
Goldstein said he doesn't think the strength of the Canadian dollar has much to do with it, as many Americans have travelled to Europe at a time when the American dollar has slipped against the Euro, just as it has slipped against the loonie.
Goldstein said the cost of doing business in Canada is simply too high for many folks, citing airport fees as an example. Visa problems also are an issue, as witnessed by the drop in Mexican visitors due to Canada's new visa requirements.
Tourism folks also have a responsibility to improve the product, and it's a task they take seriously, he said. But the issue isn't that people don't like or understand Canada.
According to Goldstein, Canada ranked first in the world in a recent brand awareness survey of various countries. The Olympics in Vancouver/Whistler did us proud and provided lots of exposure for Canada, he said, so the issue isn't a lack of awareness of Canada as a tourist destination.
He also noted that Montreal had a good summer, and that Toronto is doing relatively well in terms of tourism, with several high-end hotels opening as evidence (Le Germain Maple Leaf Square, The Thompson Hotel, the about to open Ritz Carlton).
"We need to fix this in the next 18 to 24 months, or run of permanent damage" to the tourism industry, he warned.
Goldstein said the number of international visitors coming to Canada in a year is the equivalent of a city of 325,000 being here for a year. And they all come without putting a strain on the school system or asking for government social services.
Yet Canada is the only country in the G20 that doesn't rebate sales tax to foreign visitors, he said.
Goldstein said TIAC is working with governments on a national tourism strategy, together with the private sector, in hopes of creating "innovation, growth and economic development."
TIAC's goal is to put Canada back into the top 10 in the world in international arrivals by 2017.
A lofty goal, and certainly an admirable one when you consider the growth of toursim around the world. You'd have to think getting back to the top 10 is at least possible, but I haven't seen much evidence that the government in Ottawa puts much value on tourism. They keep bouncing ministers in and out, and I haven't been overly impressed with the folks who've had the job.
I haven't met the current fellow, Rob Moore, who holds the title Minister of State (small business and tourism), but I never thought his predecessor, Diane Ablonczy, was all that amazing.
While I'm thinking about it, merely the fact that the Harper government lumps tourism with small business is kinda telling. Small business is important, I realize that. But tourism is HUGE business to Canada and to other countries in the world. And it doesn't seem that the Harper folks quite understand that.
Meanwhile, I spotted something on a website called tourism-review.com that quite nicely complements what Goldstein was saying today. TIAC communications director Kevin Desjardins said TIAC didn't write the piece at tourism-review, but he said it might have been taken from their materials.
Anyway, there was some pretty stark language in the story, which talked about how Canada is "slipping down the pecking order" because of visa requirements, taxes and security costs.
"Austria, Germany, Malaysia and the Ukraine, to name just a few, have or are about to surpass Canada in terms of inbound tourism," the story stated. "Tourists now prefer to go to more unknown and much cheaper destinations without the insult of a visa and the financial burden of high taxes."
Interesting stuff....and challenging times.