China was very much on speakers’ minds Tuesday during the opening day of the Travel Industry Association of Canada’s (TIAC) annual tourism congress — a development tied to the fact 2018 has been dubbed the Canada-China Year of Tourism. While the Chinese market takes on increased importance for the Canadian tourism industry, however, several challenges stand in the way of taking full advantage, some noted.
David Goldstein, president of Canada’s main tourism marketing agency, Destination Canada, expressed the enthusiasm of many when he called China “the opportunity of our generation.” Goldstein, who headed TIAC until he moved to Destination Canada two years ago, said China is Canada’s second fastest growing inbound travel market.
He pointed out several positive factors: Chinese tourists are more affluent, sophisticated and mobile than they were even just a decade ago; improved air travel has made it easier to reach Canada from secondary Chinese markets; and enhanced government funding for tourism marketing will help expand sales efforts in China.
Others added to the litany of good news. Air Canada vice president Kevin Howlett noted his airline can now process Chinese payment cards. And TIAC president Charlotte Bell, in reviewing Canada’s 2017 tourism achievements, made special mention of the country’s recent decision to open seven new visa application centers across China.
But others criticized the efficiency of Canada’s visa processing efforts. Tourism Toronto CEO Johanne Belanger cited a World Economic Forum tourism study of 136 countries. Though Canada ranks well overall, it places 120th on the measure of visa policies. As a result, she said, visitors will opt for other destinations that are easier to get to.
“We’re making progress with the visa centers,” she said, “but we really have to work on easing the rules.”
Brad Hutchings, a partner with management consulting firm Deloitte, also cited the World Economic Forum study, noting Canada lags such competitors as the United States, Germany and Australia in the speed with which visa applications are processed.
For some time, TIAC has called on the Canadian government to simplify the visa application process and reduce the fees it charges for them.
The TIAC conference continues Wednesday with sessions devoted to such topics as partnership opportunities in niche tourism, emerging national marketing campaigns — and a full session on the Canada-China Year of Tourism with speakers from the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and Expedia.