Prime Minister Stephen Harper's trip to China was rewarded with a long-awaited but unexpected prize from the Asian superpower. China is set to bestow Approved Destination Status on Canada, making it possible for Chinese nationals to get travel visas to come here on holiday.
Chinese citizens can already come to Canada with student visas, to visit family or for business travel, but allowing for tourists could be a huge boon to Vancouver and Whistler. The 2010 Winter Games, where China is competitive in several events including freestyle aerials and snowboarding, is an obvious draw, but estimates several years ago suggested that Chinese tourists could generate $100 million in revenue annually for Canada.
Premier Gordon Campbell welcomed the announcement and gave Harper credit for pushing the changes through.
"Achieving Approved Destination Status with China is a major economic and cultural step in terms of building our important relationship with China, particularly as we prepare to host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games," said Campbell in a release on Dec. 3. "I want to thank the Prime Minister for making Approved Destination Status with China a priority and congratulate his government on what will be an important economic opportunity for British Columbia."
Approved Destination Status allows tour operators and travel agents to organize tours and advertise Canadian destinations within China, as well as for Canada to advertise directly to the Chinese people. Chinese tourism to B.C. is expected to increase 25 per cent annually as a result.
When ADS was approved in Australia the number of visitors from China doubled in the first three years.
Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler, says it's been about five years since China brought up the prospect of Approved Destination Status, but that has given the resort time to become more familiar with the market before diving in.
"It's been a long time in coming," she said. "We have been clearly working in that direction for a number of years now and we're delighted that it's finally happened.
"We've actually started to lay the groundwork over the last five years, and we've made a couple of missions into China to work on developing relations with tour operators. In fact, with Tourism Vancouver we did some media relations work there - really just laying the groundwork since we were not allowed to officially market and sell to clientele at that point."
Fisher doesn't expect to see the paperwork completed until midway through 2010, but the next step is to grow awareness levels within China and to create relationships with tour operators and travel agents that let them know everything that's available in Whistler. They will also look at air access to Vancouver, and work with tour operators to create travel packages to Canada.