TRAVEL

A Canadian invasion

ANNE STEACY April 4 1988
TRAVEL

A Canadian invasion

ANNE STEACY April 4 1988

Chasing tourist dollars

TRAVEL

In past campaigns to lure U.S. visitors, Tourism Canada has described the country’s attractions as “friendly, familiar, foreign—and near.” Now, slogan writers can expand that litany to include “cheap.” The strength of major currencies against the Canadian dollar is encouraging Europeans, as well as Americans, to making plans to visit the country this summer.

Across Europe, travel agencies and tour operators specializing in Canadian visits report that bookings have exceeded their wildest expectations. “A real rush is on,” declared Michael Merkentrup of the Canada Travel Service in Hamburg. “Canada is certain to be overrun by Europeans this year.”

Said David Mason of Canada Air Holidays in London, whose company’s bookings are already up by 50 per cent over last year: “In terms of market potential, this is still the tip of the iceberg.”

With annual revenues of $20 billion, tourism is one of Canada’s largest and fastestgrowing industries. While the drop in the dollar has not dis-

couraged Canadians from travelling beyond North American boundaries this summer, it promises to bring Europeans to Canadian shores in unprecedented numbers — expected to exceed 1.5 million. Still, industry spokesmen both in Canada and abroad have accused the federal government of failing to capitalize on

the potentially lucrative European market. As well, some tourist agencies are frustrated by a long-standing dichotomy: the traditional image of Canada abroad as an ideal place to explore the rugged outdoors also discourages business among more genteel folk. Said René Syrenne, the Amsterdam-based Canadian Airlines International sales manager for France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg: “Canada, for better or worse, is saddled with the image of a land of snow, ice, forests and bears. So we have to exploit the vein of Europeans who happen to hanker for the great outdoors.”

outdoors.” London tour operators say that the British are among those who do not appreciate the Canadian wilds and that, as a result, Canada has sometimes been difficult to sell. Declared Mason: “It is no good showing a group of people around a camp-

fire on a snowy lake looking for moose. That turns them right off.” Canadian officials used to be insensitive to those

considerations, he said, because most British tourists were what the industry calls “VFRs”—visiting friends and relatives. But over the past 20 years, as British emigration declined, so did tourism. And that prompted officials in London to begin promoting Canada more as a country with an exciting variety of attractions—and all the comforts of home. Those efforts have paid off: Canadian tourism officials in London say that British tourists—expected to exceed 500,000—will make up the biggest contingent of European visitors this year.

But tourist representatives in other European countries have criticized Ottawa for not providing enough funds and staff to promote Canada. For their part, travel agents and tour operators say that they have been left to face the increase with little help from Ottawa. Said Jacques Flion, of Belgium’s Canadian Travel: “Compared to the Americans, who exploit every market to the hilt, the Canadians seem like penny-pinching amateurs.” He added, “They have an extraordinary product but seem reluctant to put up the money, time and effort to promote it.”

Alan Cocksedge, assistant deputy minister for Tourism Canada, ackowledged that the federal government has been slow to recognize the potential of overseas markets. Of the $36 million that his department spent on marketing Canada to foreigners last year, fully $25 million was spent in the United States. But with 13 million American visitors coming to Canada annually, officials say that they do not need to apologize for continuing to chase U.S. tourist dollars. Indeed, Tourism Canada officials say that their U.S.-oriented Spring-Summer campaign, first launched in March, 1986, is the high point in tourism marketing—although the Expo 86 world’s fair in Vancouver and the Olympic Winter Games in Calgary were unusually strong drawing points.

Some provincial governments are actively trying to attract foreign tourists. Alberta officials, basking in the afterglow of the Calgary Games, have revised their expectations as well as their budgets. Tourism Minister Donald Sparrow says that officials had predicted a 10-per-cent increase in visitors to the province this year because of the interest generated by the Olympics. But now they say that it will be closer to 20 per cent. Added Sparrow: ‘T think Alberta was the best-kept secret before the Olympics. But the media attention we received gave us a chance to show off our province and Calgary.” Sparrow says that inquiries about the province are up by about 50 per cent over last year and that his department has allotted $50 million, raised from lotteries, business and government, for tourist attractions.

The province can anticipate large numbers of visitors from Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, where industry analysts say that Western Canada is fast emerging as the prime destination. Declared Dutch tourist operator Henk van der Kooi: “The biggest potential for development lies in British Columbia and Alberta. The East is not, of course, played out. But Western Canada clearly holds the greatest sway on the European imagination.” Some experts still question whether Canada will be able to appeal to Europeans who are not interested in the outdoors. But Belgian tour operator Mark Van Holm said that his countrymen’s thrifty nature will overshadow other considerations. Declared Van Holm: “Only a few years back Canada seemed impossibly far away, expensive and exotic to the average vacationer. Now it is suddenly within range.” Van Holm added that one of the strongest factors in Canada’s newfound popularity is the European tourist’s unceasing quest for new—and affordable—holiday destinations.

MARY McIVER

PETER LEWIS Brussels, BRUCE WALLACE correspondents’ reports