May 26th, 2024

Tourism sector rolls out road map to boost visitor numbers to pre-pandemic levels

By Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press on May 16, 2024.

The tourism industry is rolling out a roadmap it hopes will guide more visitors to Canada after the bruising it took during the COVID-19 pandemic. People walk past flowering cherry trees in Centennial Park, in Toronto on Monday, April 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

The tourism industry rolled out a road map Thursday it hopes will bring more visitors to Canada after the bruising it took during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the country’s largest annual tourism convention being held in Edmonton, Destination Canada and the federal government unveiled a plan that aims to extend the travel season, increase the length of stays and attract more locals, foreigners and business people to a broader range of sites.

A warming planet means wildfires are warding off visitors while milder winters wreak havoc on ski resorts. But the hotter weather is also making way for opportunities to attract travellers during the spring and fall that could fill hotels and tour buses into the shoulder seasons, Destination Canada CEO Marsha Walden said.

“We would love to retain our workforce longer into the season. And normally the product doesn’t need to be hugely adapted to take in a new season like fall and approaching into winter,” Walden said in an interview.

“We really need to lean heavily on expanding further into the shoulders.”

Drawn-out vacations would also amount to millions more in the coffers of hospitality companies, federal Tourism Minister Soraya Martinez Ferrada said.

“Having people stay longer – having people spend more money – is just good for tourism for us in Canada,” she said in an interview.

She said marketing campaigns will focus on “getting travellers to say, “˜If you’re going to come, you’d better stay a couple days more, because Canada is big.'”

The federal strategy also looks to promote a broader range of destinations, from Indigenous-owned projects to ecotourism spots off the beaten path.

Meanwhile, business trips continue to lag behind the return of leisure travel, a post-pandemic hangover the scheme aims to address.

By 2030, the goal is to boost Canada’s spot in a World Economic Forum ranking on tourism development after the country slipped out of the top 10 for the first time in 2022.

Tourism has come roaring back from pandemic lows, but operators say the sector has yet to reach pre-COVID levels and debt remains a hefty burden for thousands of small businesses across the country.

International visitor numbers last year sat below figures from four years earlier, with tourists from the U.S. at 85 per cent of 2019 levels and those from further afield at 78 per cent, according to Destination Canada.

The industry brought in more than $109 billion in revenue in 2023, about four per cent more than in 2019 but significantly less in real terms after accounting for inflation, according to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

Beth Potter, who heads the association, has called on the federal government to create a new low-interest loan program and temporary foreign worker stream, both specific to the tourism industry.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2024.

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