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Tourism CEO says industry ‘doesn’t get any respect’

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Canada’s tourism industry is similar to Rodney Dangerfield, says the president and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission.

"Last year, tourism created 550,000 jobs, generated $54-billion and was the 11 th largest industry in Canada," Jim Watson told Pique Newsmagazine in an interview. "That places it ahead of forestry and agriculture.

"But we still don’t get any respect."

Watson was in Whistler to talk about the economic importance of the tourism industry at a chamber of commerce luncheon Wednesday at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

"It’s because the industry consists of small- and medium-sized businesses," he explained. "Together we do have a strong economic impact. There is strength in numbers."

Watson said tourists come to Canada for an "authentic" experience that is in danger of being over-exploited if the industry does not move towards the sustainability of its biggest resource – the natural environment.

"People who come to Canada don’t want a Disney-fied experience," he said. "And the industry is starting to realize that adventure tourism and eco-tourism is the greatest renewable resource."

According to Watson, these sectors of tourism are starting to experience substantial growth. He also mentioned that Canada will be hosting an international eco-tourism conference in Quebec City next year.

When asked about Whistler in particular, Watson noted that the resort can’t rest on its laurels.

"It’s the best-known ski resort in Canada, but when I travel around the world I’m still surprised that people don’t know about it," he said.

"Tourism Whistler needs to work with other organizations, like Tourism B.C., to ensure that the resort is on the international radar screen.

"It’s the same reason McDonald’s and Coca-Cola still advertise."

Watson added that Whistler needs to make a concerted effort in the next year so it won’t get lost in the shuffle when all the media coverage focuses on the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

"Tourism is becoming more competitive and if we don’t keep up, we’ll lose market share," he commented. "But I think that with the proper marketing and infrastructure programs we can continue to grow."

Watson noted that Canada is the world’s ninth most popular tourist destinations because of places like Whistler, Banff and Niagara Falls.

"There are very few countries in the world that can match our diversity – the Far North, the big mountains, the vast oceans and the clean cities," he said. "We have a great product.

"And Whistler is one of the true gems."

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