Build It, and They Will Come

We are in the first wave of a tourism boom; are Canadians ready to take advantage?

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The world is struggling with supply-chain issues. Economies around the world are in downturns. War in Eastern Europe has affected the global economy.

But, this is the right time for Canadians to be focused on building our sleeping giant — the tourism industry.

“Even though the world and Canada is undergoing an economic slowdown, tourism will be countercyclical, and this is the right time to invest,” says Randy Boissonnault, the federal Minister of Tourism and MP for Edmonton Centre.

“We’re expecting our industry to get back to 2019 levels by 2024, and that’s a year ahead of schedule.”

Understand that, to many around the world, Canada is seen as an exotic destination. We’re a large country, with lots of open spaces and natural wonders. For travelers in Europe and Asia, we’re not an easy flight. But, Boissonnault said that, once people visit Canada, they tend to come back — multiple times.

But, there are some trends working in Canada’s favour. He said the federal government has earmarked $50 million to promote Canada as a destination for conferences that have never come here before.

And, Boissonnault said that the war in Ukraine has only tightened the bonds between Canada’s allies, and there will be more interest in Canadian tourism than before from places like Germany and Japan (just last week, we did a story on the German RV-tourism business you may not have known about).

The conference part of the equation is big, because the nature of conferences have changed. No longer does one person come over, see the conference hall and the hotel, and then go home. Now, they bring their families. They combine conferences with tourism. So, there’s lots of opportunity for, say, the Edmonton Convention Centre or the EXPO Centre to host an event, but plenty of chances for side trips to see festivals, or make day trips to places like Métis Crossing in Smoky Lake.

“Some attractions need some love, but there are so many opportunities for new attractions,” says Boissonnault. Because he thinks we need to do more to activate the River Valley and Rossdale as tourism destinations, easily combined with an event at the Convention Centre. We have to be ready for the new convention economy.

As well, Canada has to do more to increase its tourism infrastructure. As Boissonnault notes, France leads the world in tourism business. Stats on how many visits the country receives a year vary from source to source, but all of them show that the number of tourists the country hosts every year actually exceeds its population of nearly 70 million.

With all of those foreign guests, there are not only hotels and restaurants in the big centres, but inns, bed and breakfasts, cafes and the like all through the country. So, many French nationals use a portion of their vacation times biking through or visiting other places in their own country. Because all of the tourism infrastructure is built up — it’s also available for domestic travel.

Likewise, Canada, by building up its tourism ecosystem, can be more attractive to, well, Canadians. And, with more low-cost airlines coming on stream, Canada, despite its size, will be more accessible.

“Low-cost carriers aren’t competing with other airlines, they’re competing with the couch,” says Boissonnault.