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Destination BC: Mainland Chinese tourism slows down

Feb 27, 2016

VANCOUVER, Canada - They are still coming in droves, but those droves are no longer growing as quickly as Canadian tourism officials would like.

There was a time when the Vancouver economy wasn't so dependent on tourists from China. Approved Destination Status (ADS), which allows guided groups of mainland travelers to visit a country, wasn't bestowed upon Canada until 2010.

Before then, the limited number of mainland visitors to the country weren't the type who went sightseeing and shopping; they were mostly businessmen, students and those on government business. But just four years after the ADS was granted, visitors from the mainland outstripped those from Britain for the first time, becoming the biggest overseas market for the city and fundamentally changing how Vancouver marketed itself.

Driven by a weak Canadian dollar and an increasing number of international flight arrivals, Vancouver has had a banner few years in tourism. However, Destination BC, the provincial government's tourism promotion arm, says the number of mainland visitors rose by just 1.8 pe cent in November, compared with the same month in 2014. No one is dismissing that gain but it's clear that the surge in visitor numbers is stalling.

"There was a lot of pent-up demand," says Monica Leeck, Destination BC's market development point person for Asia. "For the past five years, we've enjoyed double-digit growth and you can only sustain that for so long."

The slowdown in the growth of mainland visitors is partly due to air access. For years, more flights were bound for Vancouver from China than almost anywhere else, but competition is now ramping up in New Zealand, Australia and the United States. Los Angeles, for example, now has 20 more flights from China than Vancouver, according to Leeck.

Nevertheless, tourism officials and those at the Vancouver International Airport are hopeful another two mainland airlines will soon announce they will be joining the five already flying into the city.

More airlines and fewer travel restrictions have an immediate impact on tourism arrivals. A new direct flight between Paris and Vancouver last spring saw a rise in visitor numbers from France of 27 percent. In December, the new federal Liberal government lifted visa restrictions on Mexican visitors and Aeromexico inaugurated a direct flight between Vancouver and Mexico City, leading to an immediate increase in tourists from the Latin American country.

XiamenAir will start thrice-weekly flights in July. And Tianjin Airlines, with flights from Chongqing, and Beijing Capital Airlines, with services from Hangzhou and Qingdao, are rumoured to be about to announce scheduled departures for the many mainland tourists eager to spend time, and money, in Canada.

Destination BC: Mainland Chinese tourism slows down

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