The 2010 Olympic Games can be the springboard to address some of the ongoing challenges in Canada's tourism sector, according to its top federal minister.
Diane Ablonczy, minister for state for tourism and small business, was at a conference in Whistler this week with ready praise for the resort and its Olympic preparedness.
With the spotlight on Canada in 2010, some of the challenges in the industry such as access to the country and the necessary human resources in tourism can be highlighted and tackled.
"I think the Games are a motivator to address those challenges simply because of the volume, the scope, the size, the enormity of the opportunity and the event," she said at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler, host of the GoMedia conference. "So it heightens people's awareness of the need to meet these challenges and find new ways of meeting them as well."
The minister underscored the importance the federal government is putting on tourism.
The Prime Minister, for the first time in history she said, had a roundtable discussion with the tourism industry leaders in June.
The government has also developed a new federal tourism strategy designed to build the visitor economy in Canada and streamline the work done by federal departments and agencies.
"There's just a lot of steps that we have taken, are taking and will continue to take to put the kind of value on this sector of the economy that it deserves and that is consistent with the opportunity and potential that it represents," said Ablonczy.
Ottawa, too, has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the Games to capitalize on them. She pointed to the $26 million in additional funding to the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) for marketing Canada to the world around the Olympics.
When asked how the Games are viewed by the rest of the country, Ablonczy admitted there are no simple answers to that question.
She pointed instead to the recent Canadian Council of Tourism Ministers meeting in Toronto where every provincial and territorial minister talked about the initiatives they were undertaking around the Games.
She pointed to the Live Sites and the Torch Relay, which will also help engage Canadians from one end of the country to the other.
"VANOC (Vancouver's Olympic organizers) has been very, very vigorous in saying these are Canada's Games," said Ablonczy.
At the same time, Whistler will be one of the faces for the Games, the first impression many have of the country.
"We're going to be rooting for all of you here," she said. "We're extremely proud of what you're doing. It's going to be a very friendly and a very engaging place for the world."
More than 100 top Canadian and international journalists were in Whistler this week for the GoMedia Canada Marketplace conference put on by the Canadian Tourism Commission.