Why tourists don’t like Canada

Our travel deficit keeps growing

(Photo: Robert Francis/Flickr)

(Photo: Robert Francis/Flickr)

Canadian Tourism Commission CEO Michele McKenzie announced last month she would be stepping down after a difficult decade at the helm of the national tourism marketing body. Statistics tell the tale: from 2000 to 2010, Canada’s share of global international arrivals decreased from 2.9% to 1.7%. Our share of revenues fell from 2.3% to 1.7%.

A sharp decline in U.S. visitors and flat traveller numbers from overseas have left tourism operators ever more dependent on the domestic market. Canadians themselves accounted for 80% of spending in 2012, up from 68% a decade earlier, a recent Scotiabank report found. The report blamed the Canadian dollar’s appreciation, which eroded price competitiveness, “as well as the rapid growth in emerging markets as a tourist destination.”

That has left Canada with a wide and growing tourism deficit. Though the sector accounts for only 2% of the economy, it employs almost 600,000 people. And in the eyes of critics, it is getting even less competitive. “The cost of the product we’re selling continues to rise. Our airports, for instance, are used as a cost centre rather than as an economic engine,” laments John Winter, CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.

It’s unfair to saddle the CTC with responsibility for the decline. Indeed, the Crown corporation has had some small successes that point the way to the industry’s future. Under McKenzie’s watch it launched “Canada. Keep Exploring,” a “country branding” exercise that moved away from “moose, Mounties and mountains brochures” to screaming young zip-liners wearing helmet cameras and posting their adventures on social media.

The campaign was a hit with young, affluent travellers. It won the coveted FutureBrand No. 1 country ranking in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, travel to Canada by the under-25 age group increased by almost one-quarter.

Another growth node lies in emerging markets. Though the Harper government has been maligned for paring the CTC’s budget to $58 million a year—less than that of New York City—it did negotiate Approved Destination Status with China prior to the 2010 Olympics. The effect was instantaneous; China went from the sixth- to the third-largest overseas inbound market by revenues. Canada welcomed 273,300 overnight Chinese travellers in 2012 who injected $486 million into the economy. Marketing dollars are being redirected to India and Brazil too.

Restoring Canadian tourism to its 1990s heyday is probably an impossible task. But just stopping the slide will require more such investments in targeted marketing.

Get our daily briefing on innovation, leadership, technology & the economy.
Weekdays at 6 AM ET. Learn More »

20 comments on “Why tourists don’t like Canada

  1. Like it or not the Canadian Liquor prices are ridiculous.
    There is price to paid(by the host country) when taxes are added to lIquor at every turn.
    That price will be in tourism

  2. As a past Manager of a Destination Marketing Organization the declining tourism market is a big problem for Canada that’s not easily solved. In addition to the costs of airport fees we are looking at higher all-around costs for the American tourist. Resorts that once catered to the American trade are struggling to hold on to a few US customers.
    Americans are now faced with passports, higher gas prices, the HST, higher provincial park and private park fees, and generally higher accommodation fees anywhere (and sometimes a destination marketing fee in larger centres). Restaurant and liguor fees can be higher. As a tourism destination we have priced ourselves out of the market for the average US tourist. Even the safe boating regulations have riled some US travelers into never coming back again.

    We have the greatest country in the world with a high standard of living which equates to higher prices as compared to many of the states (with exception perhaps to Florida in peak season). We can’t change that plus our strong dollar only makes it worse. It’s not a matter of simply throwing money at marketing- it has to be GREAT marketing to lure more tourists, never mind the higher prices.

    One of the greatest marketing campaigns in recent memory is the superb marketing of Newfoundland and Labrador a couple years ago. All my neighbors headed to Newfoundland in 2011-2012 including myself. Accommodation was hard to get and tourism was booming in Newfoundland.

    We have to find our niche in the maze of marketing campaigns and get our message heard but it will take an innovative approach.

    • Don’t forget about the police brutality in Canada.

      • paddlepopkidJune 20, 2010 lol so true . the only place sydneysiders like more than their own city is GOLD COAST!!! WOOO-HOOO i go up twice a year!! best baeches best theme parks laid-back but still a big area/city like sydney!!! =]

  3. Whether flying, eating, sleeping, driving, entertaining or sightseeing- Canada is expensive!! Liquor tax, food tax, provincial taxes, sales tax, gas tax, service tax, 20% tipping and outrageous 407 bills make having fun and seeing all the great places Canada has to offer an investment and not fun!! Consequently, we have become our national symbol- the beaver- we wake, we work, we sleep and then we do it all over again!

    • This book is wonderful, there’s a pnoiramac of some of the most beautiful hotels in the world. It’s focused on ancient and classical design hotels, so if you’re looking for the newest it’s not recommandable. Brilliant pictures and good description of the hotels, if you put this book on the table of your living room your guests will like to read it!

  4. Look EUROPE is a heck more expensive than Canada, and it has always been. Does it stop people from going to EUROPE? No. One coffee and an orange juice in Amsterdam’s airport: 10 EURO. SO don’t blame the currency. In fact the USA themselves had always had a strong currency and I don’t see any lack of tourism. The issue has to be with the propaganda and who it is reaching. Now, you have to consider that in the 90’s heydays, there was a near depression like in 2008, there wasn’t a 911, there was no wars in the orient., and I can go on and on. So, please no witch hunting. Just work harder at promoting Canada as a: SAFE destination, with LOTS to SEE from SEA to SEA, where you can speak many languages, with fair pricing, upscale accommodations… etc. CANADA has lot to show the WORLD and a lot of people in the WORLD are not familiar with what CANADA offers. This is also apart from he fact many think Canada is part of the USA… So work the issues with priorities well sorted out and carry the flag forward! Vive le Canada!

  5. In that time the Canadian dollar roughly rose 50% in value. So yes much more expensive for americans and europeans to visit, especially since 2008 when their markets really started to hurt. What the article fails to mention is the absolute explosion of Canadians leaving Canada to travel. Think a 50% gain in their dollar, and in 2008 after the great recession many places in the world cut their hotel/resort packages by 50% to try to have customers. There has been an amazing number of large hotels and resort sell for 20cents on the replacement dollar both in canada and the usa in the last few years. It has never been a better time in the history of Canada for many Canadians to travel. But it is slowly stopping as we saw in August numbers. American hotel prices are rising at about 6% a year for the last 2 years and the expectation is also for the next couple of years, and also our dollar is expected to slide to about 90 cents. Large cities of the World have been seeing increases of about 10% a year over the last couple of years.
    We are expensive and boring (especially our booze tax). Europe is exciting Culturally ( Canada Cannot Compete) and USA is exciting with Attractions (Canada cannot compete). In Canada there are still expected a few more bankruptcies, but that is even starting to slow. In the future we will be like Scandinavia with high labour costs and not too exciting and not a great tourist destination but ok. The businesses that survive are already seeing an increase in business this year because of these changes to the betterment of the world economy, and all this is happening regardless of marketing.

  6. The truth is Canada does not know how to promote and advertise to other countries. Tourists go the Europe because they know where to go for sightseeing. Offerings for travelers at discounted rates, together with sightseeing passes and local packages to nearby destinations by trains, buses, etc. such as island hopping passes etc would be great even for the locals who feel that travelling within their own country is more expensive than travelling than abroad. Our government, both Federal and Provincial, should together to create and put together travel packages, reduce local train and ferries fares to encourage more travel for both local communities and tourists as well. You will be surprised to learn how many Canadians are unfamiliar with our own local attractions. It is no wonder why foreigners are not familiar about where to go besides the most obvious town centre of major cities which a tourist can see in a matter of a day or two, and if there is snow or rain, then God help the tourists who would quite quickly get bored with our country. There are in fact so many unbelievably beautiful places to venture to but does our Ministry of Tourism know how to promote and advertise and offer deals to these destinations? Personally, I had often wanted to take our visitors island hopping from Vancouver or even just drop them off to downtown for a hop on and hop off for reasonable rates to various destinations or other fun things like golf and ski packages or packages to vineries, etc. i.e., packages especially catered for families and/or different age groups, etc. and most importantly, travel promotion for overseas students .
    Whether our major Canadian Department chain, our transportation, our restaurant chain, it is important to advertise and promote use by offering incentives, coupons, deals and discounts and let the whole world know about our Canadian attractions, destinations and products. Only when we Canadians can comfortably afford these ourselves without having to seek elsewhere, foreigners will too. This will automatically generate businesses and boost our economy..

  7. Pingback: Tourists vs. Travelers…and a blog??? | Life as a "SuperHost"

  8. Let’s take a lesson from Newfoundland & Labrador ad campaign by focusing on what each area has to offer!
    In my Nova Scotia, we have lost thousands of Visitors annually after cancellation of a daily Ferry from New England (which also carried trucks loaded with fresh seafood products to Boston & New York markets!).
    If US Tourists need a USA Passport to return to the US-perhaps we can offer them a “Passport Discount” on all products (hotels, meals, gasoline, liquor, etc purchased during their stay here?)
    As a student of History, I was delighted with the attention Canadians paid to The War of 1812, but the millions of promotion dollars spent certainly won’t help attract Visitors from the USA.
    Canada has many friends in Britain, Ireland, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Israel, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, and Cuba-to name a few-let’s offer low cost air travel for Visitors from those countries by providing Airlines with some of our “low cost Tar Sands oil” refined in Canada? Visitors from those countries might also obtain a “passport discount” on purchases made in Canada. Canadian Passport holders need not apply for the travel and other Discounts..
    Walter G.
    Halifax, NS

  9. Just back from 3 weeks in CZ, Ger, Hun, Pol, they all offer more history to see in a reasonable length of time. Want to fly within Europe, then go ahead , it is cheap. (Hello Air Canada, wake up , make Canada affordable) When you buy and pay in Europe you see the final price , it is time for Canada to put the GST into our prices, tourists hate the huge extra tax bill, then our ridiculous tip rates. Here is a start point – train all the Pearson government employees to actually welcome returning Canadians and especially tourist/non Canadians instead of being half surley, unpleasant, bored of their jobs, ete, etc. I cannot believe how rude most of them are to almost everyone. (based on my last 4 returns to Canada via Pearson). When you travel abroad you never see any Canadian tourism adds or info. As much as we like to think that foreigners view Canada as wonderful, most , like most Americans also know nothing about us. Sorry but we must spend some advertising $$ to attract more people also.

    • isn’t the Australian capital, and it never was, Melbourne hovewer used to be the Australian Capital, Sydney is only a city, like any other city in Australia, but Sydney have been loser a lot of ratings on a lot of things, like fashion capital know goes to Melbourne, as well as many other things, Melbourne is the sports capital of the world, but Sydney has never been rated the Sports capital of Australia or the world!

    • Sharon – WOW!!! She is soooo cute can’t wait to see them all. So glad I was there to see you at work .you did a great job and the pictures prove what a great phrpogoather you are!!

    • I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forawrd to reading more from you in the future. Thank you

  10. Maybe if it was easier to get a TRV it would improve tourism.

  11. I live in Kelowna, BC.we are getting visitors from Europe every year. They all spend couple days in Kelowna and than they drive across to boarder the the USA. They do not like to visit Vancouver, Kelowna or Calgary again. To many High-riser, cities are to expensive, nothing to do with children, there are not many clean motels left where children can go for a swim after a long day ,Expensive gas,Expensive food,Expensive airline tickets If a restaurant has a bar,children can’t go in. But the main thing is NO HISTORY.Everyting old is replaced with ugly modern buildings. When Canadians go to Europe, they do not like to see Frankfurt

  12. ashleybrientJune 19, 2010 Sydney isn’t the Australian capital, and it never was, Melbourne howeevr used to be the Australian Capital, Sydney is only a city, like any other city in Australia, but Sydney have been loser a lot of ratings on a lot of things, like fashion capital know goes to Melbourne, as well as many other things, Melbourne is the sports capital of the world, but Sydney has never been rated the Sports capital of Australia or the world!

  13. I drop a comment each and every time I like a write-up on a internet site or if I have something to valuable to contribute on the conversation. It’s a result in the fire communicated in the put up I browsed. And after reading this article I had been in fact moved enough to drop a comment here