The number of Chinese skiers doubled from 2 million to 4 million between 2002 and 2003, and with the approved destination status China granted Canada last week Whistler is expecting to tap the tourism potential of the most populous nation in the world.
"The approved destination status is something we have been looking forward to for five years," Barrett Fisher, president of Tourism Whistler, said in a release. "China has one of the largest outbound tourism potentials in the world, and ADS opens the door to significant opportunities for Canada, and for Whistler in both summer and winter."
Tourism B.C. President Rod Harris said this week he expects China will overtake Japan as the single largest source of overseas tourists to B.C. within three to four years.
The People's Republic of China stands as the largest and most critical emerging market of outbound travel in the world. According to forecasts from the World Tourism Organization (WTO), China will have 100 million outbound travellers and become the fourth largest source of outbound travel in the world by 2020. The WTO also reported that outbound Chinese travel increased 224 per cent between 1993 and 2001.
The ADS agreement announced last week during Prime Minister Paul Martins visit to China means that Canada can now actively market itself as a tourist destination in China. It also allows Chinese to travel to Canada using a tourist exit visa. Without ADS, only Chinese travelling on business could obtain exit visas to Canada.
Tourism Whistler has conducted research regarding tourism from China and cites strong potential for year-round visitation. Research shows that many Chinese travellers are looking for a variety of experiences such as adventure, eco-tours, and winter activities including skiing, which is a rapidly growing new sport in China. An estimated 1.5 million new Chinese skiers take up snowsports each year. Chinas middle class is estimated at approximately 110 million people, out of a population of 1.4 billion.
Tourism Whistler says it is ready to now initiate a marketing and sales strategy for China including conducting sales missions, developing tour operator relationships and hiring an in-market sales manager, to target this lucrative new market.
Tourism B.C. is also looking at hiring a general sales representative in China. The Canadian Tourism Commission opened a new office in Beijing last Friday.
A new bilateral air agreement between China and Canada, which is expected to be signed this year, is also widely anticipated. Vancouver-based Harmony Airways is hoping to expand into the Chinese market. Currently Air Canada is the only Canadian airline flying between Vancouver and China, serving Beijing and Shanghai. Air China flies the Beijing-Vancouver route and China Eastern Airlines serves the Shanghai-Vancouver route.
Canada began negotiations with China on an ADS agreement in 1999. During that time 63 countries have concluded agreements. Among the theories for why negotiations took so long were fears of illegal migrants to Canada, and perhaps the U.S., and Canadas refusal to extradite one of Chinas most wanted fugitives, Lai Changxing who is accused of fraud.
Yuen Pau Woo, senior researcher at the Vancouver-based the Asia Pacific Foundation, told Canadian Press last year that one of the primary advantages of ADS would be to dispel the impression that most Chinese have that Canada does not welcome tourists. "ADS would help correct that perception," he said in an interview last May.