Report by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
OTTAWA, ONTARIO — Although Maxime Bernier can quickly name the destinations he would recommend for visitors to Canada, the federal Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism says it is the people of the country who are the tourism industry’s greatest asset for attracting travellers.
Bernier kicked off the annual Rendez-vous Canada travel and trade conference at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec on Sunday night and afterwards spoke with me about an industry that has seen its annual marketing budget cut by 20%. Those spending reductions from the federal government come when most of the rest of the developed world is increasing spending and initiatives to grow tourism.
While the Canadian tourism industry faces headwinds from its traditional markets because of the continued lagging economies in Europe and the United States, it has seen growth in other parts of the world. Bernier credits the nation’s reputation and its citizens for some of that success.
“They’re warm, they’re welcoming. We are very open to visitors. It is why our country is so popular. Our biggest advantage is our people,” said Bernier, who also represents the riding of Beauce, south of Quebec City, in Parliament.
Bernier named Old Quebec City as a place visitors should see “for its beauty and food.” He also tabbed Banff National Park for skiing, and Toronto for its entertainment aspects and the one-of-a-kind sensation of the EdgeWalk at the CN Tower. The EdgeWalk, which opened in 2011, sends visitors walking on the exterior of the tallest building in Canada. They traverse a platform while a harness keeps them tethered to the tower.
“I did the EdgeWalk around the CN Tower. That is something. It could be scary, but it is a thrill. It’s safe. You can see the city from the outside of the tower. It’s a very popular attraction,” Bernier said.
Rendez-vous Canada Creates Tourism Opportunities
Government ministries across the country have set a revenue goal of $100 billion by 2015 for the tourism industry. Yet, the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) budget has been slashed to $58 million from $72 million. Meanwhile, the one-year-old Brand USA campaign spends $150 million annually to attract visitors — including Canadians — to the United States. Other first-world nations have also increased their spending on tourism marketing. Despite the lack of resources and increased competition, the Canadian tourism industry still grew 4.2% in 2012, increasing its revenue to $81.9 billion. The nation ranks eighth in the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Travel and Tourism Competitive Report. Bernier is a believer in Canada’s many strengths as a destination and the economic importance of the industry.
“We need a strong tourism industry to export to new markets, like China and India, and that’s what the commission is doing,” he said.
At the 37th annual Rendez-vous Canada conference, 1,500 delegates are in attendance. The foreign contingent includes nearly 400 buyers from 22 countries while more than 500 Canadian organizations and businesses are represented.
“It’s all about our reputation as a country,” Bernier said about the successes the nation has found. “Visitors look at the natural resources they can see, like Niagara Falls, but we have to go beyond that. We have to sell our cities also, like Montreal, Toronto, Calgary.”
The event runs through the week, with more than 21,000 appointments set up for the trade industry.