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A simple way to help our battered economy: tourism!

Woe is the Canadian dollar, eh? Hovering below the 70 cent line, and causing many of us who like to vacation in the U.S. no end of worry.The price of oil is seemingly to blame, what with barrels going for an unheard of $30 or so these days. As oil prices have cratered, so has the loonie, sparking all sorts of business headlines about what the government should do.

Canadian National Parks like Jasper and Banff are the envy of the world. Boosting visits shouldn't be hard, and would be a big help for the battered Canadian economy. JIM BYERS PHOTO

Canadian National Parks like Jasper and Banff are the envy of the world. Boosting visits shouldn’t be hard, and would be a big help for the battered Canadian economy. JIM BYERS PHOTO

At the risk of repeating an age old mantra of mine, I’m disturbed by the lack of talk about tourism. Oh, sure, there’s the odd story about how our dollar is making us more shiny and attractive a destination, particularly for Americans who now get something like $1.50 Cdn. for a sturdy American greenback.

But all the stories I read about what should be done keep talking about investing in infrastructure or various technologies. Not nearly enough is being written about how tourism can help lift us out of our economic doldrums.

Here’s the great thing about tourism. We have a FANTASTIC product. Not to sound like a boastful American, but our country is universally recognized as one of the best places on earth to visit and live. Year after year, the companies that do those “brand rankings” of countries put Canada on or near the podium. Almost everyone loves our mountains and our cities and our wonderful people. They admire (from afar, anyway) our subway systems and our general efficiency and our ability to say “I’m sorry” at least 173 times a day, and probably another dozen times in our sleep.

Cape Breton is another tourism gem that could be used to bring more Americans to Canada.

Cape Breton is another tourism gem that could be used to bring more Americans to Canada.


So here’s the great thing. Ottawa or Queen’s Park or the BC Legislature don’t have to build anything to improve tourism and boost our economy. Yes, better airport and roads are a good idea and will help tourism and help our citizens. But governments don’t have to build hotels to house the tourists, the Fairmont’s and Hilton’s and Sheraton’s of the world will do that. Governments don’t have to build the Rockies; some greater authority than Justin Trudeau already did that. Governments don’t have to import fun and engaging and utterly wonderful people to Nova Scotia or Newfoundland; they’re already there. And they don’t have to build a romantic city called Quebec or a ski resort called Whistler or a great golf course like Dakota Dunes outside Saskatoon. They’re already there. And waiting.

I saw a CBC item the other day that quoted a Canadian economist who feels tourism can have a significant impact on our economy.

“Certainly in the services exports such as tourism, TV [and] film, the reaction is much more immediate,” said Helmut Pastrick, chief economist for Central 1 Credit Union.

International visitors love touring Quebec City. And with good reason. JIM BYERS PHOTO

International visitors love touring Quebec City. And with good reason. JIM BYERS PHOTO


So, what does government have to do? Promote our wonderful product better. That requires money, yes, but not a lot. What it really requires is hard work and being smart and savvy and appealing to tourists in ways we might not have tried. Look at those marvellous and simple ads Newfoundland has been running the last few years; the ones with the freckled kids and the laundry waving in the breeze on a hill so green it makes the Irish envious. It’s so beautiful, and so warming and really helps differentiate the province from the rest of what’s out there.

I tell anyone who’ll listen, and there aren’t many, that I still don’t think the Maritime provinces and Newfoundland know how golden and distinctive their product really is. I don’t think Americans realize how beautiful Mahone Bay is, or how incredible the golf is on Prince Edward Island or at the new Cabot Cliffs on Cape Breton, sister course to Cabot Links. I don’t think they know about the fantastic live music you’ll hear in Halifax every Friday night, or the wondrous fishing and French culture in New Brunswick. They almost certainly don’t know that Charlottetown is not only the home of another child with freckles, but also some very hip coffee houses and restaurants, not to mention a guy who makes jewelry out of dead beetles flown in from Asia and has made gifts for Hollywood stars attending the Emmy Awards.

Cruising Lake Muskoka on the RMS Segwun is a great way to enjoy the Canadian outdoors. Ottawa needs to do more to market our tourism opportunities in the U.S. and abroad.

Cruising Lake Muskoka on the RMS Segwun is a great way to enjoy the Canadian outdoors. Ottawa needs to do more to market our tourism opportunities in the U.S. and abroad.


Ottawa last year finally decided to get back into marketing Canada in the U.S. with the Connecting America program, but they haven’t kicked in enough money. I’d like to see Mr. Trudeau talking more about tourism and I wouldn’t mind seeing a higher profile minister of tourism than Waterloo’s Bardish Chagger, who shows up LAST on the government’s list of Cabinet ministers that I called up this weekend and who STILL is saddled with the incredibly inane title of Minister of Small Business and Tourism. Why inane? Because tourism is one of our most vital and largest industries. It’s also a relatively clean one with plenty of opportunity to grow.

Don’t forget the American dollar’s strength hurts other people around the world. The Canadian dollar makes our country far more attractive now for Aussies and Kiwis and Europeans and Asians than it was a couple years ago.

Tourism has been historically treated as an afterthought by Canadian governments at all levels. Instead, it should be embraced with the fervour of a honeymoon couple on a heart-shaped bed in Niagara Falls.

ritzbarCANADIAN HOTELS CLIMB THE AUTOMOBILE ASSOC. RANKINGS

The CAA and American Auto Association have released their annual list of Five-Diamond properties in the Caribbean, Mexico, The U.S. and Canada. There are seven Canadian hotels on the list this year; four in Toronto, one in Montreal and two in British Columbia. They are the Ritz-Carlton Toronto (great food at TOCA and a fab spa), the Trump International Tower in Toronto, the Shangri-La in Toronto (best lobby of the bunch) and the new Four Seasons in Toronto’s Yorkville area. Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton also got the nod, as did the Four Seasons Whistler and, the Shangri-La in Vancouver.
I also noticed Five-Diamond status was granted for the third year running to the One and Only Palmilla in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where I stayed last year. A truly remarkable property with a stunning location. Also given the top rating were the Four Seasons on Nevis, which has a gorgeous golf course I got to play once, and the Fairmont Mayakoba on the Riviera Maya in Mexico, which features expansive grounds with canals and great food.

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