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Ottawa ramps up efforts to lure tourists to Canada

Bruce Campion-SmithOttawa Bureau chief
GATINEAU, QUE.—There’s no new marketing slogan, no new sales pitch to sell Canada to the world.
But tourism insiders say there was something just as important unveiled Thursday in Ottawa’s long-awaited strategy to woo the world — the promise of some coordination.
From setting airline policy to running national parks and writing the immigration rules, Ottawa has vast influence over an industry that pumps $73 billion a year into the economy and generates 594,500 jobs.
The new strategy sends the message that tourism is a priority for the 15 departments and agencies that have a hand in the industry, said Maxime Bernier, the minister of state for small business and tourism.
“It’s a new beginning for the federal government,” Bernier said Thursday after he unveiled the policy at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
“All the departments that have an influence on tourism, like transport department, Parks Canada . . . (will) now work together to ensure we are aligned with the same objectives,” Bernier said in an interview.
Industry executives applauded the move to put a spotlight on the tourism sector.
“It is an important announcement for us, not because it fits on a bumper sticker but because for the first time we have a thoughtful and deliberate roadmap,” said David Goldstein, president of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
He said few other industries can boost investment and employment across the nation.
“It’s just a great job driver. It’s one of the sectors where you can drive private sector jobs in every region of the country — urban centres, rural communities, even Canada’s North,” Goldstein said.
Some of the strategy’s goals seem modest — a new website, an annual report. It also highlights the need to enhance visa services and improve “border experiences” for arriving visitors.
But the promise to make tourism a focus across government departments was applauded as a good first step.
“It’s very important for us that we have a policy environment that is coordinated,” said Michele McKenzie, president of the Canadian Tourism Commission.
“We see countries that we compete against like Australia, New Zealand. They are world-class in terms of taking an all-of-government approach to tourism.”
Canada can have the “most brilliant marketers” but if would-be tourists have trouble getting a visa or a flight to be able to visit, “we’re going to lose those customers,” she said.
“We’re all competing against new and emerging and exotic destinations . . . This is a fiercely competitive world,” McKenzie said.
The move comes as Canada is trying to regain lost ground in the global battle for tourists. Part of the decline in international visitors is the drop-off in cross-border traffic by Americans deterred by a high Canadian dollar and the sagging economy in the United States.
That’s why Canada has set its sights on attracting more travellers from 11 key markets, including Australia, Brazil, India and Japan. An agreement signed with China last year giving Canada “approved destination status” has already boosted visitors by 24 per cent, Bernier said.
“That’s new visitors, new money, new jobs,” Bernier said.

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