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Canada attracting fewer U.S. tourists

“Globally speaking, in the midst of so many exciting and new developments, Canada, unfortunately, is losing its once prominent place on the map,” notes Ryan Brain, Partner and National Practice Leader of Deloitte’s Tourism, Hospitality & Leisure practice in Canada.

The combination of more and more countries developing their tourism industries, growing investments in marketing, improving air access, and shifting tastes away from traditional European and American destinations in favour of more exotic locales, will continue to draw an increasing number of travellers away from Canada. With competition among these countries for tourism dollars growing, “Canada is lagging behind many others in terms of investment,”

These are findings from a research project undertaken in 2007 by Deloitte and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), as they attempted to build a better understanding of how the world views Canada, starting with its single-most important, yet problematic travel market, the United States.

There were two surveys conducted: an online survey of 3,000 people, which was narrowed down to 1,225 qualified U.S. respondents, all avid travellers 16 years of age and older, and an online survey of 41 DMOs representing thousands of tourism organizations, aimed at determining the types of investments they are making in developing new products and services in their respective regions.

Randy Williams, President and CEO of (TIAC), points out. In 1950, when only 25 million travellers were off to see the world, Canada ranked second in terms of inbound tourist numbers, and the top five destinations saw 71% of all the action. By 2005, Canada had dropped from the top 10 into 11th place, behind Mexico,  Austria and Turkey, and the top five tourist destinations held only a 32.7% market share. Today, the region of the world showing the weakest growth, at only 2.5%, is the Americas, “pulled down,” according to a recent UNWTO report, by Canada and hurricane-hit Mexico.

According to John Kester, chief of the market intelligence department charged with producing the UNWTO annual study, the international perception remains that Canada is quiet, safe, dull, increasingly expensive and a hassle to enter when arriving at the U.S. border. “I don’t think many people think of Canada as a very exciting destination,” he told the Montreal Gazette.

Canada’s travel deficit with the United States ballooned to $4.5 billion in 2006, its highest level in 13 years. Not only are Canadians taking more trips south of the border, thanks to the strengthening dollar – 16 million overnight trips, to be exact – but fewer Americans are venturing north, due to:

• a Canadian dollar topping $1 U.S. and near a 30 year high. Historically, the exchange rate has had the biggest impact on U.S. visits to Canada

• a slowing U.S. economy wracked by deficits widely believed to be unsustainable, higher interest rates, weak job growth and a deteriorating housing market, putting the squeeze on consumer spending

• escalating prices at the gas pumps

• confusion over stringent new border documentation and passport requirements pertaining to travel by land, sea and air

• stepped-up border security measures since 9/11 and

• declining interest in and awareness of Canada as a travel destination, as opposed to international and U.S. destinations.

Herein lies one of the biggest, most vexing problems confronting Canada’s tourism sector today.

Understanding the American traveller

Just hours north of the U.S. border, even in the depths of winter, the sheer variety of travel destinations and activities available to tourists arriving in Canada is impressive by any measure. They can observe polar bears, visit an indoor rain forest, indulge in the sensory pleasures of the latest spa treatments and world-class cuisines, all the while experiencing Canada’s unparalleled multicultural diversity firsthand.

Why, then, is Canada not perceived as number one on Americans’ travel agendas, exemplifying as it does a safe, escapist haven? Canada offers Americans geographic proximity, a close affinity with its people, few language barriers and the promise of discovery. Canada’s diversity allows it to strike an ideal balance of the unfamiliar with the familiar.

Generally perceived as large, beautiful and above all safe, stable and secure, perhaps Canada has come to be seen as too safe, too predictable, even boring. When all that Canada is can be encapsulated in a few simple adjectives, or clichés, overall impressions tend to become blurry.

As the survey numbers make clear, Americans show a decided preference for visiting Canada in the spring and summer, followed by fall and winter, despite Canada’s world renown as a winter playground. The numbers are telling: 63% have been to Canada in the spring versus 37% in the winter, even though only 20% of all respondents cited bad weather as a concern.

It is quite possible that tourists have been misinformed about Canada’s other well-developed summer and all-season offerings, such as golfing, the performing arts, spas, retreats and fishing and hunting. Here is an opportunity to leverage and capitalize on Canada’s existing tourism assets – outstanding, yet underexploited offerings well suited to adventure-minded Baby Boomers and Generations X and Y – through more aggressive promotion and education  programs.

“If consumers are not made aware of these products and services, they are not going to buy,” says Williams. “It’s that simple. The only way to be top of mind is to get an ad right in front of  them just as they’re making their decision about where to go.”

The experienced generations have an altogether more favorable impression of Canada, choosing the words “friendly,” “down to earth” and “honest” as descriptors. Most have visited on more than one occasion and plan to return. They also have a firmer grasp of all that Canada has to offer – from coast to coast to coast, from rustic outposts to the heights of cosmopolitan culture. Amazingly, they even report knowing more about Canada’s nightlife than any other generation.

The contemporary generations proved to be the most lukewarm about Canada, rating it as an average place to vacation, or just “plain.” Among the least likely to visit any time soon, many see Hawaii and Central and South America on their travel horizons over the next few years. That they are clearly adventurous, however, is borne out by the fact that they have taken more trips to Asia than any other demographic.

To their credit, the contemporary generations reported knowing more about Canada’s skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, professional sports and spas than the Boomers. However, a small but notable proportion of the youngest respondents actually dubbed the idea of travel to the “Great White North” boring. In addition, these generations – with the least amount of knowledge about Canada were able to offer no particular reason for their lack of interest in going to Canada, even when their perceptions are on the whole positive.

Canadian services/experiences deemed less than good/excellent

  • 21% Professional sports
  • 18% Spas/retreats
  • 15% Theme and amusement parks
  • 14% Beaches
  • 13% Golfing

Appeal of the cruise industry

  • Variety without the inconvenience of having to think
  • Entertainment: movies, spas, rock climbing, wave pools, bowling, shooting, chess, literary clubs, casinos, nightclubs,  golf, fitness with trainers, shopping, dancing classes, cooking classes, language classes, port of call excursions
  • Easy to meet others: socialization
  • Convenience of packaging: all inclusive, big time saver and stress reliever
  • Easy 24-hour access to food and drink
  • Removes decision making process and need to travel
  • Resort hotel with flavour of adventure travel without having to pack or unpack
  • All inclusive choices
  • Romance

See the complete study report here: http://www.deloitte.com/assets/Dcom-Canada/Local%20Assets/Documents/ca_en_cb_destinationcanada_june07(2).pdf

 

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