HERE COME THE TOURISTS

Roy MacGregor August 4 1980

HERE COME THE TOURISTS

Roy MacGregor August 4 1980

HERE COME THE TOURISTS

Roy MacGregor

In the rich, rinsed light of a late June evening, the soul of Canada has come to rest in the St. Lawrence village of Morrisburg. It is Old Home Week, a celebration of past roots and present virtues. Decent men from the Lions Club organize parking for the returning natives. Sensible baking arrives from the auxiliaries. Innocence savors a late outing as 16-year-olds loosen the apron strings and tighten their jeans for a long evening of desperate stares along the midway. Farmers—forearms red as apples, foreheads white as cores— gather around the poultry exhibit and complain contentedly. Beyond the fairground and behind the slumping snow fence, the RCMP musical riders practise precision cantering, their red tunics flashing like Christmas stockings beT fore a freshly barbered kid in a hockey jacket. His hair floats in a light breeze. The wind is coming off the water, moving through the fair, and it carries voices that are strangely out of sorts with the scene.

“Ich kann eine Blasen blasen.”

( I can make a bubble. )

“Nein, du kannst das nicht.”{No,you can’t)

“Doch, das kann ich schon. Schau mal.” (Yes, I can. Look.)

Ingrid Peters purses her lips, narrows her eyes and blows mightily. Slowly, a large pink bubble grows from her mouth up toward her nose, touches it and bursts loudly. Peter Kraus claps his hands and laughs. He signals for one of the West German television crew to capture the moment—a candid shot of the guest singing star picking gum off her face—and then turns back to his own Dubble Bubble gum which he and Ingrid and the 16 other West Germans have discovered that afternoon at nearby Upper Canada Village. His attempt fails again and he removes the gum to explain why he, one of Germany’s most famous entertainers,with a television audience of 17 million, would come to Morrisburg for location shots. “Canada is very, very... can I say ‘famous?’ in Germany right now,” he says, searching for the proper phrase. “It has become a big... curiosity. Yes, a very big curiosity.”

Ah, but there are more curiosities. A mere two years after Canada’s infamous travel deficit hit both $1.7 billion and the front pages, tourism today is being hailed as a possible “savior of the Canadian economy.” Thanks to a merciless winter, Canadians still spend more running away than others do running to this country, but the embarrassing 1978 figure has been cut by more than half in two years. Tourism is suddenly a $12billion-plus-a-year bonanza—a phenomenon that will see a record 42.5 million visitors arrive here this year. It will include Americans (40 million), Britons (500,000), West Germans (260,000), Japanese (180,000), French (140,000), Australians (74,000) and Italians (67,000). It is a trend that began last year when, for the first time ever, more overseas visitors came to Canada than Canadians went elsewhere, and it has clearly continued into 1980 with the total number of foreign visitors up nearly 33 per cent over the first quarter. Jean Cabot may have discovered these shores in 1497, but the true discovery of Canada is just beginning.

Most impressive, of course, are the

figures from south of the border. If the current trends hold true, the number of American visitors will surpass last year’s 31 million by 33 per cent. Unfortunately, it has less to do with Ken Taylor and the escape from Iran than it has to do with cheap gas, as four out of every five American visitors do not even stay overnight. The truly impressive statistics, then, involve the most visible—and audible—change, the estimated 2.5 million wow-American tourists who will pump some $1.25 billion into the Canadian tourism industry this year. In the past five years, the number of these overseas foreign visitors has doubled.

“The prospect of the overseas market has suddenly exploded on us,” says Len Nathan of the Toronto-based Suntours. Swiss and West German hunters are arriving in New Brunswick to hunt black bear; other Europeans are paying up to $300 in Quebec to fly to the James Bay hydroelectric site where one of the highlights is dining in the workers’ cafeteria; and Japanese visitors in Vancouver are paying $95 to travel 50 km up the coast to Squamish for lunch and a round of golf. The tourists, clearly, have moved much faster than the industry. One sad example of playing catch-up occurs in Italy—the sixth most important overseas tourist supplier after the United Kingdom, West Germany, Japan, France and Australia—where there is no Canadian tourism office and the Canadian embassy is able to offer only fact sheets on the country to prospective travellers.

A Maclean's survey of 10 major travel agencies in Rome turned up exactly one travel brochure on Canada. Even so,

61,400 Italians visited Canada in 1979, and after the first five months a 10-percent increase was in the works. At times Canada performs like a Sunday bootlegger—just having the product on hand is often enough to have them knocking at the door.

It is now more than 300 years since Father Hennepin, a French Recollet priest, came to Niagara Falls and reported back to Europe that “the universe does not afford its parallel.” Had the Recollets only been hustling package tours they could have financed the salvation of this heathen New World by a simple denial of the Ninth Commandment—“thou shall not bear false witness”—for Father Hennepin wrote that the cataract fell 600 feet ( 180 metres),not its true 176 feet (49 metres), and he even claimed it could be heard 45 miles ( 75 km ) away. It was this country’s first outlandish sales pitch

and, not surprisingly, had Europeans clamoring for a look for themselves.

Attracting tourists today requires rather more substance than the mists of Niagara Falls afford, but not a great deal more. In France, one poster shows a freckled Saskatchewan farm girl wearing a calico dress and grinning out from a hayloft, CANADA. BUCOLICALLY YOURS printed beneath. In West Germany, the slogan is CANADA—DIE FREIHEIT IST NOCH NICHT A USVERKA t/FT—FREEDOM IS NOT SOLD OUT. Tourism may end up as cheap trinkets and boring slides, but it invariably begins as images.

“We’re selling the unspoiled—the clear air, clean water, the wilderness,” says Joe Becker of Atlas Tours in

Whitehorse. It’s a concept that might work wonders in the Yukon where it is true, but in Niagara Falls if they ever found it they’d put it behind plastic and charge $3.50 admission. “Austria is very closed in,” said Helmut Muhlbacher, as he and Kurt Mayr bicycled by the Falls this summer. “We have too many people there.. It’s a better life here. You have good fishing and hunting. You can do all the things we cannot do in Europe.” And so, the Niagara Falls attitude of putting a price tag on a beautiful view is spreading quickly. “We had a tremendous day,” an official with the Canadian Office of Tourism in London, England, said on his return from a recent $125a-day fishing trip on New Brunswick’s famous Miramichi River. “I’m sure it’s going to sell.”

ell. Canada’s main attraction is neither calico dresses nor clear air. It is the Canadian dollar. That hotels in Montreal are reporting 100 per cent week -end bookings throughout this summer while in London, England, hotels are on the ropes, many running 50 per cent below last year’s levels, is indicative of the economic truths of Canadian tourism. “Do you want to pay $150 for a hotel room in London or $50 for one in Halifax?” asks Alec Simpson of the Nova Scotia department of tourism. “If anybody is value-conscious, we’re a good buy.” European and Japanese currency is so strong in comparison to the

sagging Canadian dollar that traditional tourism concepts have changed drastically. Rob and Mary Little of Cumbria, England, and the Davidson family from nearby Dumfriesshire, Scotland, found themselves touring Ontario by rented car this summer rather than returning to the Canary Islands where they vacationed last year. “We were surprised,” Colin Davidson said as he left Niagara Falls. “Prices here are not only competitive; they’re often cheaper.”

It is for this reason that a thigh-high bundle of auburn fake fur, wearing a Stetson, red plaid lumberjack shirt, white vinyl teeth and what may or may not be antennae, sits just inside the doors of an exclusive travel wholesaler on Paris’ chic rue Auber. “C'est un

castor," says Emmanuel Daoud, the proprietor of Destination Canada. It’s a beaver. Daoud looks upon this curious gift from the Canadian Office of Tourism as a symbol of what he calls “the fastest-growing long-distance destination in the travel business today.” The number of French visitors to Canada this year is expected to increase by 25 per cent over last year, which in turn was a 25-per-cent increase over 1978. A brochure in Daoud’s office explains it all. “For the French tourist,” the editorial begins, “Canada has almost become the Spain of today.”

To appreciate this fully it is necessary to understand the Spain of yesterday, less than a decade ago, when Canadian youths were accustomed to spending a leisurely six months in Europe for little more than $1,000 and a cheap return air fare. In the past 10 years, the Canadian dollar has dropped 128 per cent against the German mark, eight per cent against the British pound, 189 per cent against the Swiss franc, 48 per cent against the French franc and 99 per cent against the Japanese yen. Little

wonder the hot seller at Paris’ Destination Canada this summer has been a two-week tour of the Canadian Rockies in a rented motor home. At $1,140 it is roughly the same price Parisians would pay for two weeks in the south of France.

And one need not ask why the entire passenger list is smiling as the Japanese tour bus pulls away from the Hotel Vancouver. The bus driver is introduced, applauded, and he bows graciously in the thick of traffic. Up Grouse Mountain the tour goes. Stop for pictures. Up the cable car to the top the group goes. Stop for pictures. Eat lunch. Go outside to take pictures of magazine

photographer taking pictures of them. Down to the Capilano Salmon Hatchery for more pictures and a 10-minute tour. On to the Capilano Suspension Bridge for more pictures. Pictures by the Indian carvings. Pictures by the tepee. Pictures on the covered wagon. Pictures with the donkeys. Then by bus back to the hotel, all in less than three hours. Less time, perhaps, than the slide show will take back in Japan. The Japanese like their tours in a “chop-chop manner,” according to Wendy McClelland, reservations manager at the Banff Park Lodge. “They bus in, look around and are gone before you know they were here.”

But they certainly know where they have been, as well as where they want to go. The Japanese have only been able to travel internationally since 1962 after the lifting of currency-exchange restrictions, and the sudden rush to Canada was likely caused by a variety of

offbeat reasons: a 1975 saturation ad campaign by Canada Dry on Japanese television; a song, A Love Letter From Canada, that was No. 1 on the Japanese hit parade for an impressive 10 weeks in 1976; a television soap serial called White Runaway, much of which was filmed around the Banff Springs Hotel; and the continuing success of Anne of Green Gables, which showed up last winter as a regular television cartoon feature. Whatever the cause, the Japan ese are so enthused about Canada that this year Kyosen Ohashi, the Johnny Carson of Japanese television, is doing several of his shows on location in Canada. And so popular is the Banff Springs Hotel with the Japanese—thanks undoubtedly to White Runaway—that many refuse to stay anywhere else. “Banff and Lake Louise were very special for us,” newlyweds Akihiro and Yoshie Watanaba said after their recent stay. They were lucky: during one recent Christmas trip 60 other Japanese honeymooners spent their wedding night on the floor of the hotel basement when Canadian Pacific overbooked its well-known resort.

But, generally, there are very few bad experiences for the Japanese. Each week more Japanese language signs go up and many resorts such as Sunshine Village, 134 km from Calgary, are

printing their winter brochures in Japanese. In Canada, the Japanese feel safer than travelling in Europe. “Not so much bang-bang,” says Minaru Takahashi, a tourist from Tokyo visiting Vancouver. “In Europe our luggage would be in danger of being stolen,” adds Shunichi Kawarasaki, a visitor to Banff. And Kawarasaki is quick to praise the Canadians he has encountered. “The care to detail,” he says. “Everything is organized and we see everything we wanted to see.” “We like the people,” Wilhelm Burdzik added as he and his wife strolled through Toronto City Hall. “They are not very complicated. You are free and friendly, and we will always recommend Canada.”

“The world is not much different,” chuckled Jakob Kessler, as he prepared to fly home from Ottawa after a typically rowdy session at the House of Commons question period. In parlia-

ments, perhaps, but not so in tourism. As a well-known hotelier near Davos, Switzerland, Kessler knows he has only his reputation to lean on with the unfailingly sturdy Swiss currency beginning to frighten off visitors. “With us it is getting worse,” he said. “With you, it can only get better.”

By the year 2000, some 11 million overseas visitors will be arriving each year in Canada. To attract these projected visitors, as well as current ones, there exists a $2-million advertisingprogram conducted by the Canadian Government Office of Tourism (CGOT),

some airline advertising and limited programs run by various provincial governments. Ontario, for example, will pick up 20 per cent of the total budget for Peter Kraus’s Hello Peter television special, an investment that should cost Ontario taxpayers close to $100,000, a small price to pay for 17 million West German viewers. But though much of the Canadian advertising is praiseworthy, some of it is also humorous and some of it just doesn’t work as intended. An exquisite $600,000 brochure campaign in Germany last year was found to have almost as much impact on immigration as on tourism, and German advertising was consequently altered considerably this year. Full-page ads in French weekly newsmagazines this spring caused a small uproar when they used the “Dear Reader” technique and consistently referred to the reader in the familiar something' that is

common in Canada but just not done in France where President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing still calls his wife, AnneAymone, by the formal “vous.” And in Israel, where there is no national tourism office, the Canadian embassy was unable to handle the onslaught of visa requests last year. The resulting backlog caused some Israelis to go elsewhere.

U ack home, there are also much-needed changes in • the works.In New Bruns wick, a tractor trailer motors around the prov ince, stopping in at restaurants, hotels and motels, and hustling the entire staff out and into the trailer for a crash course on waiting and serv ing. Customs officers-their surly nature a major source of complaint by foreign visitors-are being quietly lec tured about their attitude toward other people's dirty laundry. Three hundred thousand federal civil servants dis

covered “Reach Out a Friendly Hand” brochures in their pay envelopes last year and, in B.C., Tourism Minister Pat Jordan is calling for tourism to be taught in schools. Canadians have obviously not been as successful as their scenery.

“I get grumpy,” says Ted Tilden, chairman of the 500-member Tourism

Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), “when in the Maritimes the distance between food stops is 60 to 80 miles... and when in our Canadian Rockies skiers would rather spend every night watching TV than going out to the mediocre after-ski facilities.” One Romebased Italian travel agent says,“They’re very courteous, but not very warm. No one seems to go out of their way to make us feel really welcome there.” To remedy attitudinal and facility problems properly, however, would require something other than the current lawnsprinkler approach by competing federal-provincial levels of government and the often-differing objectives of the bureaucrats and private business. “The task now,” says Tom Fletcher, assistant deputy minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce in charge of Tourism, “is that the various interests must consolidate their position. We must strike while the iron is hot.”

“We aren’t able to strike when the iron is hot,” a Fletcher colleague counters in confidence. “We’ve got everything going for us and we’ve got to move. We’re just panting to move.” He, like Ted Tilden, sees the tourism bonanza as the possible savior of the Canadian economy, yet he claims the government’s $18.3-million marketing budget falls about $12 million short of being able to cash in successfully. Next year’s overseas advertising budget, for example, will not be increased by a single penny—a regressive move in these inflationary times. But it seems unlikely cabinet would approve such a controversial increase. Tourism currently accounts for five per cent of the gross national product and employs some one million Canadians, yet it has no minister to speak for it other than Charles Lapointe, minister of state for Small Business. There is much talk about a forthcoming National Tourism Plan, which will be launched in October. A sort of industrial strategy for tourism, it is an idea that dates back to 1971 when provincial tourism ministers met in Victoria and decided tourism development in Canada was, to put it kindly, retarded. “When you have Disneyland across the border,” John Powell reported only two years ago in a task force on tourism, “miles of beaches along the Mexican coast and the delights of all Europe to choose from, who wants to spend his precious twoor three-week vacation in a ‘rustic’ cabin that hasn’t seen a coat of paint or a carpenter’s hammer for the past 20 years?” Ironically, in the two short years since John Powell pointed this out the Canadian tourism boom has taken place; however, it can be argued that the novelty of Canada is saving the country from such criticism from abroad. But it may soon be coming. Recent CGOT sur-

veys have discovered the fastestgrowing world tourism market involves people who are either over 55 or between 18 and 34, a blue-collar worker who has never been to college. No survey is needed to discover that such a visitor might soon tire of War of 1812 forts or autumn leaves. While nothing so drastic as what occurred in 1827 in Niagara Falls—when the retired ship Michigan was loaded up with bears and dogs and other animals and sent over the Falls as an attraction—is contemplated, there are undoubtedly changes coming. Like it or not, the push is on for

more Disneyland-style theme parks such as Canada’s Wonderland, north of Toronto, and more recreation-oriented family resorts such as Mont Ste. Marie in western Quebec. There is an undeniable, if painful, truth in the words of Gerry Brander, executive director of TIAC: “People aren’t happy anymore to just go stare at the lake.”

The provinces have moved individually to change their approaches to enticing tourists. They have to. Most noticeable has been the number of foreign languages used by tourists. The most significant economic change, however, has been in the growth of the domestic market. Last year, Canadians spent a record $9.4 billion on domestic travel, and the figure will continue to rise dramatically as long as Canada remains an international travel bargain. Canadians can’t afford to go anywhere else.

Newfoundland has launched a $148,000 program (90 per cent federally funded) to separate the province psychologically from the rest of the Maritimes in the eyes of Canadian tourists. “We have more whales, higher mountains, moose and caribou and some of I the best bird sanctuaries in North America,” says Hal Stanley, assistant deputy minister of Tourism. Alberta, aware that so many of its own citizens

are relative newcomers, has launched an extensive “Stamp Around Alberta” promotion, aimed almost exclusively at those who already live there. And Manitoba, whose promising tourism industry has been nose-diving since the mid1970s energy crisis, has tagged $877,500 toward recouping that industry.

The provinces realize, just as any bait salesman does, that repeat business, not dreams, is the future of tourism. Chuck Ridder, the German-speaking owner of Gladstone Mountain Guest Ranch, 50 km north of Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park, has been building up his

foreign clientele for the past three years. This year, for the first time, Germans make up “the lion’s share of the bookings.” He has even hooked up with a West German wholesaler who sends Ridder tours throughout the season, as many as 20 tourists at a time, in pursuit of “wilderness-type experiences, but with the creature comforts—wine and brandy after dinner in the dining room.” It is a clear example of something that works. One tour operator, Wolfgang Sauer of Munich, says 35 per cent of his customers are repeat visitors to Canada, and travel authorities in Frankfurt say more than 95 per cent of Germans returning from Canada are happy with their trip, a “satisfaction level” obtained only rarely with longhaul destinations.

So far, Canada’s weaknesses in service and Canadians’ reluctance to smile have not caught up with the burgeoning market. A recent letter to the editor in The Globe and Mail came from Thomas D. Leslie in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, and said: “I have spent, with friends, the finest three-week vacation I have ever had in my life.” A heartening letter, but obviously a first impression. It may be that not all overseas visitors are after wilderness as Wolfgang Sauer’s Munich customers have been, and that

Canada’s obvious shortcomings in tourism promotion, service and facilities may soon pose a larger problem. Getting the Japanese, British, French, Italian, Mexican, South American, Austrian, Swiss and Australian tourist to return as well, and to return again and again, will require much more than a National Tourism Plan. As a June editorial warns in the Ottawa Citizen'. “It’s time to get our tourist act together.” Brn Bollaert came from Belgium with his wife and another couple last month, and as he stood gazing at the twincurved towers of Toronto’s City Hall he

thought about what had impressed him the most about this country. He hesitated a while and then said: “When you go into a bank they are waiting in lines—that’s order!”

As any Canadian with a bank account knows, long bank lines are soon

avoided. O

With files from Marci McDonald in Paris, Theadora Lurie in Rome, Peter Lewis in Brussels, Mayuri Hirata in Tokyo, Mark Budgen in Vancouver, David Polster in Fredericton and Matthew Teitelbaum in Toronto.