Armed with a groundbreaking nation-wide tourism report, Tourism Whistler is leading the charge to convince federal policymakers Canada can get a bigger piece of the global tourism pie.
The independent report, produced by Deloitte Consulting and quietly championed by Tourism Whistler this past year, calls on the federal government to make critical and specific changes that could allow Canada to grow international tourism arrivals by seven per cent in the next three years — an increase that would create $2.9 billion in additional tourism spending, up to 40,000 new jobs and an increase of $2.5 billion in GDP.
"We are very optimistic that this report will help get the attention of the decision makers (in Ottawa) and this is a good year for this report to come out," said TW's president and CEO Barrett Fisher, referring to the federal election.
"Tourism has been patient, and we've understood, but now we need to work together as a country to invest in where we're going to see the strongest and greatest return on that investment.
"Our goal will be to influence the federal budget as well as federal policy."
Titled Tourism in Canada — Seizing Economic Advantage the report spells out in no uncertain terms the value of Canada's tourism industry, and just how much Canada is lagging behind its international competitors.
Specifically, global tourism has more than doubled since 2000 to the tune of $1.35 trillion; meanwhile, Canada's tourism ($84 billion) has seen a decrease in visitor arrivals of 15 per cent during the same time.
The report's strength lies in the compelling economic data supporting the need for the federal government to make changes in four key areas. They are:
• remove visa barriers for visitors to Canada, specifically in Mexico and Brazil and reduce processing times in China and India;
• reduce fees and charges that are creating an unlevel playing field for the air industry;
• negotiate more open and non-restrictive air agreements in target markets to open up routes and capacity;
• increase Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) funding for marketing Canada to the 2001 level of $100 million annually, adjusted for inflation. It is currently at $58 million.
"Our hope is that government will read the report, will understand the benefits of tourism and what an important industry it is, and will recognize that if we make these recommendations we will increase our economic engine exponentially," said Fisher.
As Dave Brownlie, president and CEO of Whistler Blackcomb sees it, this report gives real teeth to long-held facts hamstringing the tourism industry.
"They are all things that we know," he said of the recommendations. "But unfortunately the federal government hasn't been listening. I think the formality of the report, getting the broad representation across Canada to support this fact-based assessment, is certainly a real strength."
Of all the recommendations, said Brownlie, air access is the most critical.
"That is the key to growing export tourism to this country," said Brownlie.
"You can look at our share of international tourism as it's been growing around the world.... International tourism is growing (yet) it's declining in Canada and there's a reason for it and the No. 1 reason is air access."
"Our guys need to be champions," said Brownlie of tourism leaders.
"I'm really proud of the work that Barrett Fisher has done to lead this and drive this. She's been a champion and it's very positive and now it's going to take the rest of the industry to rally around this paper and see if we can make a change. Because the timing is right, going into an election year."
Local Conservative MP John Weston, who gathered the roundtable members and spearheaded the work, is committed to ensuring the recommendations don't sit on the shelf.
He wants to keep up the momentum, now the report is complete and there is a growing groundswell of support.
"I'm trying to get the group together with the minister (Tourism Minister Maxime Bernier) so that the minister can hear first hand about how much effort has gone into this report, how credible the supporters are, how important the recommendations are," said Weston, speaking from the House of Commons this week, highlighting the private-sector investment from across the country to fund the $100,000 report.
He would like to have that meeting with the tourism minister as early as March.
"... Some 28 per cent of tourism revenue in British Columbia, comes from our corridor," said Weston. "So these recommendations, I hope, will be taken very seriously."
The Deloitte report shows visa restrictions can have a direct impact on travel.
In-bound visitation to North America is estimated to be more than 30 per cent lower, on average, when there are visa requirements.
More specifically, the report highlights the impact of the July 2009 announcement that all Mexican citizens need a visa to travel to Canada. Overnight visits from Mexico fell 48 per cent in the first year after that announcement.
It also shows the rise and fall of travellers from the Czech Republic after visa restrictions were lifted in 2007, imposed in 2009 and lifted again in 2013.
Compounding the issue of the visa requirement is the length of processing time — Canadian processing times for tourist visas have more than quadrupled in the past 11 years and are significantly higher than processing times in Australia and the U.S.
The report shows the direct and indirect impact of eliminating the visa requirement for Mexico and Brazil, which could increase visitors by 30 per cent or more. That would translate to 102,000 more international arrivals from the two source markets by 2017 — increasing overall tourism spending in Canada by $168 million.
Similarly, streamlining the visitor-visa process for India and China would also increase visitors from those countries.
The Air Industry
The report also highlights and confirms what North American fliers have known for a long time — it's cheaper to fly out of the U.S.
On average, Canadian airfares are 78 per cent higher than the U.S. due to higher fees and taxes.
Airline base fare is roughly 43 per cent higher at a Canadian airport versus a U.S. border airport; fees and taxes are roughly 35 per cent higher at a Canadian airport versus a U.S. border airport.
It is estimated that five million Canadians are crossing the U.S. land borders to fly from U.S. airports, resulting in roughly $3.5 billion of airfares and taxes going to the U.S. versus Canada.
And it's not just expensive; it's also limited. In the U.S., 80 per cent of air agreements are considered open and non-restrictive, compared to only 16 per cent of Canadian air agreements.
States the report: "Despite progress toward more open skies, Canada's air policy is considered restrictive relative to other major global tourism nations."
If air policies were liberalized with key source markets that have untapped potential due to current restrictive air agreements (for example: Singapore, Taiwan, Turkey, Thailand and UAE), international arrivals could increase 35 per cent or more. This would have significant financial spinoffs with $105 million more in overall tourism spending."
The Marketing Budget
The Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) has gone from base funding of almost $100 million in 2001 to $58 million in 2015.
The report states: "In contrast, funding for tourism organizations in other countries is increasing. Canada faces the difficult task of increasing tourism with a diminishing market budget."
International country competitors such as Ireland ($219 million), Mexico ($191 million) and Australia ($141 million) are outspending Canada on their tourism marketing investment. They are seeing substantial growth in tourism arrivals, while Canada has seen a decline.
The report calls on the government to restore the CTC's funding to its 2001 level, adjusted for inflation, and consider alternative funding approaches that could also leverage private sector partner contributions.
This is the year to raise the profile of Canada's tourism industry — an election is looming and the federal budget will be released in April, say supporters of the report.
If the recommendations are fulfilled, it would also increase federal revenues to the tune of $355 million.
"Finally, a study that not only pulls together the latest research and outlines the economic value of the tourism industry to the Canadian economy, but also proposes actions to take advantage of Canada's opportunities," said Senator Nancy Greene Raine, who sat on the tourism roundtable.
"Policymakers must read this definitive report."
Twenty-five national funders contributed to the report, including the Canadian Ski Council and Vancouver International Airport as well as several tourism organizations, primarily on the west coast, where the roundtable and report was born.