Tourism in Canada is suffering due to decreases in government investment and a heavy increase in competition from the United States, according to two of the country’s top tourism organizations.
The province’s annual tourism conference got underway in Charlottetown Wednesday, and as part of this two-day event, a town hall meeting was held to discuss the state of the industry on a national level.
The news was not overly positive.
Kevin Desjardins of the Tourism Advisory Council of Canada presented statistics that show international visitor numbers have dropped since 2002, meanwhile, the U.S. has been diverting Canadian travellers who would otherwise have visited destinations within the country.
“We’re losing market share ... we’re losing out on this opportunity to bring in revenue,” Desjardins told a roomful of local tourism operators.
He said public policy issues such as expensive fees and taxes tacked onto things such as airline tickets are making Canada’s tourism industry less competitive than other countries.
“We’re the only export industry in Canada that’s not zero rated in GST,” he said. “This is something that’s harming the economy.”
Paul Nursey of the Canadian Tourism Commission, which is a federal Crown corporation, said the industry is at a crossroads.
He believes the answer lies in the industry changing and adapting to evolving markets.
Baby boomers will soon be replaced by ‘millennials’ — a younger generation of travellers who have high standards and
less money than they believe they do, he said. These travellers want more locally focused, experiential tourism.
“People don’t travel on bus tours like they used to, they travel to see, to participate and to engage,” Nursey said.
This could be good for local economies like P.E.I. that already offer this kind of tourism product, but since a large number of domestic tourists are flocking to the United States, it’s hard for local industries to compete.
That’s why the Canadian Tourism Commission is launching a new marketing campaign aimed at diverting some of those travellers to Canada.
It’s called ‘plus Canada’ and encourages tourists to add a few days in Canada to their U.S. vacations.
Nursey echoed Desjardins’ concern over the current state of the industry, but said he believes tourism in P.E.I. and Canada has room to grow.
“Our rate isn’t very good and our yield isn’t very good, but we have the foundations, we have the ability to build a better tomorrow,” he said.
“We think by working together and pulling together there’s a lot we can accomplish.”