Finally! Harper government backing plan to market Canada in the U.S. once again

We’ve wasted a lot of years in this country as the Canadian government continually slashed at federal tourism budgets. But rather than be churlish about this, I’m going to congratulate Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Tory government in Ottawa for FINALLY waking up and smelling the visitor numbers.
It’s not as much money as tourism folks were asking. The latest releases I saw from the Tourism Industry Association of Canada were talking about $35 million a year from Ottawa for three years. The release they sent out today says Harper has promised $30 million but spread over those same three years. That would mean less than a third of what TIAC had wanted.
It’s not nearly enough, but, again, I’ll say at least it’s a form of recognition for the vital role tourism plays in the Canadian economy.
100_4579For those of you not used to my continuous rants on the subject, let me back up a bit by saying that Ottawa a few years back decided for some bizarre reason to stop marketing this great country of ours in the U.S. Instead, that job was left to the provinces and more local tourism boards. Fine in theory, but not the same as marketing “CANADA” in those big red letters with that big red and white Maple Leaf flag the world seems to love.
Partly as a result of this failure to spend money on tourism, our visitor numbers in Canada have been pretty weak compared to other parts of the world. We’ve muddled along getting small increases in visitors but not enough. Canada has done VERY well attracting folks from China and other parts of the world of late, so full credit for that. But we’ve slipped badly in terms of attracting Americans, our prime source of tourism money.
The Canadian Tourism Commission has seen its budget slashed significantly the past few years, and it’s hurt.
Tourism folks, I think, have been too shy the last few years in terms of complaining. But the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) came up with a plan a while back called Connecting America and started trying to garner support for a stronger federal role. In particular, they asked for $30 million in matching funds from the Harper government to launch a new campaign aimed at bringing U.S. visitors back over the border.
img_0850There was no money earmarked in the recent federal budget for the initiative, but the Tories announced the money today (hmmmm…a campaign move, perhaps?) in Grosse Ile Quebec. Here’s part of the press release I got a few minutes ago from TIAC:
The federal government has pledged to invest $30M over three years in a partnering formula to re-enter the United States with a strategically-aligned and innovative leisure marketing campaign led by the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC).
“By investing in US marketing, the government has responded to the top priority of tourism businesses across the country,” stated Charlotte Bell, TIAC President and CEO. “During our Tourism Town Hall consultations across Canada, industry has been unanimous in their desire to get back in the US market and take advantage of the recovering US economy, record high passport ownership and the favourable exchange rate.”

While Canada currently welcomes 11.5 million American visitors yearly spending over $7 billion to the economy annually, these numbers are down 24% from a decade ago. Connecting America will target US leisure travellers and raise awareness of Canada’s world class hospitality and tourism experiences.
Small and medium sized businesses comprise 98% of Canada’s tourism sector.Connecting America is estimated to generate up to $400M in new spending and2 900 new jobs across the country.
“Tourism is a fiercely competitive global industry where ease of access, world-class experiences and strength of marketing voice define advantage. TIAC continues to work through the Federal Tourism Strategy to improve conditions for tourism businesses to generate wealth and create jobs in communities across Canada,” concluded Bell
img_0652As a fellow who makes his living in travel, I can’t tell you how relieved I am at this. Tourism is an EASY sell in this day and age of easy jet travel (not to mention a low Canadian dollar). We have an INCREDIBLE PRODUCT to sell. The Americans have a worldwide campaign called Brand USA that sells the U.S. around the world. Australia has pushed its tourism potential for years. So it’s high time we joined the pack and started pushing a tourism industry that has a huge impact on the Canadian economy.
Worldwide, something like one out of ten jobs are in the tourism field, according to recent United Nations reports. Canada has historically put minor bureaucrats in charge of tourism and put the tourism portfolio in among lesser important areas of responsibility. Perhaps we’re finally seeing a sea change, a vital recognition that tourism can contribute valuable dollars to our economy at a time when oil and other natural resources aren’t providing what they used to.
I could bitch and moan all day about how Canada has been late to the game. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll happily state that I’m thrilled to see this happening.
This is good for airlines. It’s good for hotels. It’s good for restaurants and airport security workers and hotel cleaners and pilots and bartenders and vendors at the Rogers Centre and tour guides from Bonavista to Banff and beyond. This is good for travel and for tourism in Canada. And it’s great for our country.

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