Canadian tourism getting more U.S. focussed?

1-IMG_3648It’s about time.

I’ve been arguing for years that Canadian tourism folks are sailing the wrong waters by spending too much time and energy on emerging markets and forgetting the giant next door. Now I’ve got more company.

In a press release issued yesterday in advance of next week’s Canadian Tourism Marketing Summit, it was revealed that a survey by HLT Advisory found an incredible 79 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with a proposal to focus increasingly scarce marketing resources on U.S. residents.

Only four per cent of folks disagreed with something called the “Connecting America” initiative, apparently a three-year strategy developed by the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) that would invest a whopping $120 million in marketing Canadian

Some 600 folks were surveyed for the study and they “represent a cross-section of the country’s tourism industry including destination marketing organizations, lodging providers, those who put together festivals and events, transportation and service companies and other industry suppliers.”

1-IMG_6683The press release says the CTC backed away from marketing to the US in 2011, opting to instead direct resources to raising awareness in emerging markets such as China and leaving the American market to provinces and cities.

Meanwhile, the number of international visitors to our country has plummeted. Which means less tax dollars and fewer jobs.

Part of this is funding. The Tory government in Ottawa hasn’t a clue about the importance of tourism. They’ve consistently slashed the CTC budget the last couple years, and they have little understanding (amazing, actually) of how important tourism is to the Canadian economy. Other countries around the world are investing huge sums of cash in tourism, including the U.S. with its massive Brand USA campaign. Canada, meanwhile, sits on the sidelines. We want to own the podium at the Olympics, but in tourism we don’t even want to wave pom-poms on the sidelines.

“While the focus on emerging markets has yielded some positive results, tourism operators believe the provinces and cities haven’t been able to coordinate the sort of efforts needed to attract American tourists – an essential component of the Canadian industry given a population of 300 million is right next door,” yesterday’s press release says.

Amen to that. I get web alerts every day about how this country or that country is chasing the Chinese market or the Russian market or the Brazil market. But not everyone can compete for those travellers. Canada is doing well with Chinese visitors and that’s a market worth pursuing given its size, notwithstanding the recent economic downturns. Russians, I don’t think, have much desire to come to Canada. Maybe a few Brazilians. But most folks from Brazil seem content to hit Miami and New York and then fly home.

usCanadian tourism folks, and tourism types around the world, have become so enamoured of these emerging markets that they’ve forgotten their bread and butter. In our case, that means spending too much time making eyes on foreign markets and not flirting nearly enough with our neighbours to the south.

The CTC can only do so much. I understand that. And they need to spend at least some time courting emerging markets. But I think we’ve spent too few hours and too few dollars on our  biggest source of tourism. So I’m looking forward to hearing more about this “Connecting America” initiative. From where I sit, it’s about bloody time.

The HLT Advisory release notes that tourism “is   essential to the health of the broader economy, generating $81.7-billion and employing more than 600,000 Canadians from coast-to-coast. The Conference Board of Canada recently underscored its importance, pointing out that travel and tourism make a bigger contribution to gross domestic product than agriculture, fishing and hunting combined.”

Yet it’s STILL IGNORED by the Tories in Ottawa. Or virtually so.

One interesting bit in the survey is that fewer than 10 per cent of respondents support a new tax or fee to support the effort, with 90 per cent hoping the federal government will come through despite deep budget cuts across all departments as the feds look to eliminate the deficit.

I wish that would happen. But I can’t see it.

There is also a split amongst tourism operators on how best to spend any money that is available – half would like to see it managed by a central agency such as the CTC, half would prefer a decentralized (but coordinated) effort from cities and provinces. “It’s telling that the survey found a significant interest in decentralized marketing responsibility yet one of the greatest challenges facing the Canadian tourism industry was identified as lack of alignment between the various marketing entities” said Lyle Hall, Managing Director of HLT Advisory. “Coordination is a key way of ensuring the best use of limited dollars.”

Regardless of which measures are taken, just over half of the respondents believe Canada can get back to the levels of international visitation last seen in 2000 by 2017 (19.6 million international visitors), something that is sure to be addressed at the Canadian Tourism Marketing Summit. “The only way to achieve aggressive growth targets, whether visitation or visitor spending, is to re-engage with our largest, closest and wealthiest market: the United States,” Mr. Hall said, adding focus areas should include the border states, U.S. cities with non-stop air access to Canadian cities and meeting and convention opportunities within Canada.

For more information on attending the Canadian Tourism Marketing Summit, review the program and register.

About Canadian Tourism Marketing Summit
Now in its fourth year, the Canadian Tourism Marketing Summit examines the importance of (and the required activities) supporting tourism marketing, with a focus on bringing international visitors to Canada as well as domestic travel.
Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/1716621#ixzz2sMWI8YqX


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