CANADACHINA YEAR OF TOURISM A CHANCE TO ELEVATE BRAND CANADA
With its wide-open spaces, clean environment, natural beauty and multicultural hubs, Canada has much to offer for Chinese travellers, and declaring 2018 the Canada-China Year of Tourism aims to boost not only awareness of our country as a travel destination but also the number of visitors. The goal? To double the number of Chinese tourists coming to Canada by 2021.
Along with education, tourism is a valuable export opportunity for Canada, believes Sarah Kutulakos, executive director of the Canada China Business Council. With over 1.8 million Canadian jobs related to the tourism sector and an annual $20-billion contribution from international visitors, tourism is already an important part of the economy.
To build on this potential and capitalize on the China-Canada connection, Kutulakos suggests getting to know would-be visitors. “Ten years ago, Chinese tourists would typically travel in tour groups, but today, we see more and more independent travellers. This creates a market for more customized experiences,” she says.
The majority of Chinese travellers are also active online, where they may find travel companions, read about destinations and book their itineraries. E-commerce platforms like JD and Alibaba, which are popular in China, have created travel divisions to take advantage of this business opportunity, says Kutulakos.
“Let’s celebrate what we have to offer, encourage tourists to come and make sure we have the infrastructure,” she advises. To some extent, Canada already has an advantage since Canadians with Chinese ancestry account for 4.5 per cent of Canada’s population, and Mandarin and Cantonese are the most spoken languages after English and French. With 620,000 arrivals in 2017, China is Canada’s third largest market, the second largest in terms of tourist receipts. And statistics suggest that Canada is hosting approximately 186,000 Chinese students.
“Chinese living in Canada certainly influence their friends and family,” says Kutulakos. “And if you go to certain areas where tourists like to shop, like the Mink Mile on Bloor Street, you find Mandarinspeaking store clerks. But as more Chinese visitors come to Canada as individual travellers, they access different parts of our communities, such as supermarkets, car rental agencies or AirBnB.”
This means businesses have to be equipped to accept their payments. “In China, people rarely use cash or credit cards – they use mobile payments like Alipay or WeChat Pay,” says Kutulakos. “There is a push to enable such payment services to accommodate Chinese customers who are used to paying with their phone and QR codes.”
A recent Australia China Business Council report can give an indication of the potential impact of Chinese tourism, says Kutulakos. “Australia has almost double the number of Chinese tourists compared to Canada, but there are many similarities between the two countries. Both are destinations for not only Chinese tourism but also for education and real estate investment,” she says. “In Australia, first-time visitors from China contributed about $5.3-billion to the economy. Based on a survey of these visitors’ intentions to return, to invest, to study and to consume Australian products, there is potential for an additional $65.8-billion in economic impact.”
And many Chinese visitors went home with an appreciation for Australian offerings, says Kutulakos. “They said that because they had gone to Australia, they would buy more Australian goods and services in China.”
Kutulakos hopes that “Brand Canada,” which is already known for certain food, beverages and clothing (think Canada Goose jackets), will benefit from the Canada-China Year of Tourism, especially when Chinese visitors have a positive experience and perhaps share their recommendations on social media. “The Australia poll says 73 per cent of first-time visitors were planning to return,” she says. “So we want to make the most of our visitors’ time in Canada.”
The Canada-China Year of Tourism aims to increase awareness of Canadian travel destinations as well as the numbers of Chinese travellers visiting them.