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Moose, Mounties and misperceptions may surface when foreign tourists think of Canada these days.
TIAC president Beth Potter says those in this country’s tourist trade are eager to see the return of foreign tourists but many of those potential visitors don’t realize that the welcome mat has indeed been put out for them.
Ottawa announced last month that fully vaccinated travellers can now opt for an antigen test rather than pricier and slower PCR tests for entry into Canada, a change that was quickly welcomed by a travel industry that’s been struggling since the onset of the pandemic.
But Potter says many of the world’s travellers are actually unaware that they can now explore Canada.
“There’s a notion now that Canada is closed for business and closed to travel,” she says. “We’re working hard to correct that and continuing to educate government on the challenges that our industry faces. We need to let the world know that we are once again open; that we’re a safe destination, and that we’re ready to welcome the world back to Canada. That’s in the public sphere – we’ve got to rebuild consumer confidence in choosing Canada.
“On the Industry side, tourism has suffered much reputational damage over the last two years and is not seen as a stable industry in which to work anymore. We need to educate Canadians, especially new Canadians as they come in, that working in the tourism industry is not just a good choice but a great one; one that offers lifelong opportunities for growth and development and is, above all, stable. And that’s going to take more time to achieve because we have two years’ worth of damage to undo.”
Many hospitality firms say they are now having to contend with staff shortages, with trained employees having sought work outside tourism as a pandemic that at times has devastated international travel has lingered on.
Potter says a tourism rebound is looming but cautions that a full recovery is well down the road.
“We will definitely see a surge in bookings, but will it be what it needs to be?” she asks. “I don’t think so. All the forecasting that I’ve seen shows that we won’t be back to pre-pandemic numbers until 2025 or 2026. There will be no ‘quick’ rebound for the industry first and hardest hit by this pandemic – and we will be the last to fully recover. And the provinces will bear the burden of recovery unevenly, unfortunately, with the regions relying most on international visitors facing a steeper climb. For example, about 40% of pre-pandemic tourism spending in B.C. and P.E.I. came from visits from abroad prior to the pandemic.”
TIAC hopes to see tourism reach 2019 levels by the end of 2025, ensuring the tourism industry begins 2026 in what Potter says would be a strong position of growth.
The association is continuing to push for greater government financial supports for the tourism industry and for what Potter calls the “urgent policy changes needed to address the critical labour shortage tourism now faces. Securing ongoing government support for the industry is our top priority for the foreseeable future. I also wanted to mention that in the second quarter of the year, we will once again be hosting Rendez-vous Canada in which we bring the world to Canada and let them know that we’re open for business. That’s going to be a hugely important event – more so now than it has ever been.”
One plus for those with a stake in Canada’s tourism trade is this year’s Rendez-vous Canada quickly attracting attendees. The May 24-27 Toronto show will enable delegates to attend in-person or virtually, a choice unavailable last year when it was a virtual show alone. The 2020 Rendez-vous was cancelled because of the pandemic.
“We’re seeing strong interest so far this year and are expecting 300 buyers and 600 sellers in-person – plus additional online attendance,” Potter reports. “This year, it’s a brand-new hybrid format that brings back in-person attendance, while also incorporating a virtual component — creating even more opportunities for sellers to engage and make appointments with international buyers, travel trade media, and destination marketing companies.
“This year’s event is an exciting opportunity to welcome international buyers back to Canada and showcase the beauty of our landscapes and the truly meaningful travel experiences on offer across each province and territory. We are looking forward to connecting with industry there and showcasing the very best of Canada!”