A new report commissioned by the federal government says Canada could create 180,000 new jobs and bring in billions in increased revenue by investing in its burgeoning tourism industry.
The report is the cornerstone of a new national tourism strategy slated for release this spring.
"I profoundly think that the tourism sector has been snubbed for too long by federal decision-makers and that this industry is really important," said Federal Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly, in an interview with Pique this week.
Joly added that the federal government wants to grow tourism outside of urban centres, such as Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto. This, she said, could be achieved through supporting infrastructure builds as well as "tourism clusters," areas with interconnected tourism-related businesses. (Whistler is cited as an example in the report.)
"What the report said to us is that we should look at supporting tourism clusters," she said. "So if a community decides to take tourism seriously and organize its infrastructure projects and demands ... and they have a real strategic plan that includes infrastructure ... We would be very interested in seeing how we can support the development of these clusters."
According to Barrett Fisher, president of Tourism Whistler, the report "hit the right notes."
She said she is encouraged that Canada's tourism industry is being "recognized and supported" at the federal level and will be a focus of the 2019 election. The Liberals have already significantly increased spending on Destination Canada, the agency responsible for tourism marketing at the national level, from $57.8 million to $97.8 million.
Fisher said there are essentially two peak seasons in Whistler, in winter and summer, and she would therefore welcome investments in infrastructure that would encourage year-round visitation.
"From our perspective, in order to make our tourism economy more sustainable on an ongoing basis, we do need to look at filling those shoulder season times," she explained.
"We don't need to attract people in our peak-season months, because we're already close to being at full capacity. For us, it's looking at how to attract people to come in the spring, fall periods, and/or in mid-week."
Fisher would like to see the federal government consider investing in "weather-independent" attractions. She gave the Whistler Conference Centre as an example of an institution that could benefit from federal dollars.
"We are looking at a potential expansion over the next five to 10 years that would contemplate the ability to have a second ballroom," she explained.
Melissa Pace, CEO of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, stressed the need for the federal government to "take a unified" approach in terms of its tourism strategy; housing and the labour shortage continue to be major challenges for local businesses, she noted.
Pace would like the federal government to make it easier for business owners to access the temporary foreign worker program. "I think one of the things (the federal government has) to keep top-of-mind is that by increasing tourism businesses, and increasing the jobs, we need to make sure we can fill the jobs," she said.
When asked about the issue, Joly said that the topic is being discussed with the Minister of Labour. "That's definitely a conversation we are having ... and that we are having with industry also," said Joly.
Pace would also like to see the federal government nurture Indigenous-owned-and-operated businesses.
To be able to showcase Indigenous dance and food in the local tourism economy would be a boon to Whistler, she explained.
"The (Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre) has done an incredible job in doing that. But can there be more? Can there be restaurants? Can there be art galleries?"
The federal report—titled Unlocking the Potential of Canada's Visitor Economy—points out that tourism is already one of Canada's largest economic sectors, generating total revenues in the order of $98 billion annually.
Prepared by McKinsey & Company, the authors state that Canada is simply not capturing its "fair share" of the rapidly growing global tourism economy.
With the right approach, Canada could more than double its current number of international travellers and their associated revenues by as early as 2020, the report stated.
"I think it is feasible, but I think we need to address some issues, some of which is related to capacity," said Joly, when asked about the possibility.
The report lists the fact that Canada spends about 20 per cent less on tourism marketing than similar countries, and expensive air travel as limiting its tourism growth.
Joly said that while the air-travel issue can't be solved overnight, her government is taking steps to address it, having recently passed legislation that increases the permitted threshold of foreign ownership in Canadian airlines from 25 to 49 per cent.
"We think that that may help support the creation of new low-cost carriers in the country," she said.
To read the full report, go to https://www.destinationcanada.com/en/news/unlocking-the-potential-of-Canadas-visitor-economy.