Why Canada’s tourism industry is finally heating up again

Chinese demand for Canadian holidays is helping to fuel a tourism renaissance in this country after a lengthy lull that began following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

This year, China became the second largest source of visitors to Canada behind the U.S. Almost 70,000 Chinese nationals entered Canada last March, according to seasonally adjusted numbers. The U.K., which held the No. 2 spot for three decades, fell to third.

Foreign visits to Canada, both same-day and overnight, plummeted after the attacks of Sept. 11 and the more intense border security that followed.

The SARS outbreak in 2002, the global recession of 2008, and an unattractive exchange rate brought the number of visitors to Canada crashing in 2010 to the lowest level since 1972, when Statistics Canada started tracking border entries.

But now a humming global economy and increased air travel from emerging countries are pushing the numbers back up. Though they’re still far below the all-time highs of the late 1990s, when Canada welcomed more than four million visitors a month.

“I don’t see why it’s not possible to reach those numbers again,” said Claude Normandin, an analyst for Statistics Canada who tracks travel data.

Canada became a viable destination for Chinese travellers eight years ago. That’s when the Chinese government gave Canada what’s called Approved Destination Status, meaning Chinese citizens had permission to travel here (the U.S. got this in 2008, and most European countries in 2004).

Sherry Sun, co-owner and general manager of Canada CYTS Travel Services, a tour operator based in Richmond, B.C., that serves Chinese travellers, says Canada is becoming a go-to destination for MICE travel — the growing meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions segment of the tourism industry.

She says Chinese travellers are drawn to Canada’s monumental landscapes, like the Rockies and Niagara Falls. And many also have relatives on the West Coast.

“Big cities here have huge Chinese communities, and a rich history around railroads and gold mining,” she said. “My clients are surprised that they can eat food here that’s as good as Hong Kong.”

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