Come on Over

Tourism and its Many Benefits

In Canada and the U.S., many cities are suffering economic hardships and increasing unemployment due to business downsizing and closure, declining populations, and a depleted tax base which could ultimately lead to community deterioration on a social, economic and aesthetic level. Although tourism remains strong in the Rocky Mountains and in major cosmopolitan centres, tourism offers a wealth of opportunities for smaller communities to realize economic development, offsetting job losses in traditional sectors.

By investing in tourism, governments are investing in a community’s wellbeing – both social and economic – while also protecting and preserving a town or region’s heritage and history. Investment in tourism leads to community improvements, with both the public and private sectors working to thoughtfully plan and improve the built environment, emphasize natural endowments, and meet the needs of residents while extending a warm welcome and a safe environment to visitors to the area.

Both Canada and the U.S., as travel destinations, boast world class accommodations, food and drink, arts and culture, events and festivals, scenic nature and wildlife, urban and rural adventures, and promise a warm experience rich with history and accessible by land, air and water.

Brockville, one of the oldest cities in Ontario, has embraced and emphasized its geography and natural endowments, building its identity on its history and branding itself the “City of the 1000 Islands.” Strong investment has meant major community rejuvenation and as a result the residents enjoy a safe, prosperous place to work and live, rich in arts, culture and history.

When tourism is a well managed priority in a community, quality of life increases as a result. Residents will generally experience improved transportation systems and infrastructure, a strong commitment to healthcare services, as well as a strengthened community identity and engagement, celebrating local and regional arts, culture and heritage and civic pride.

Cranbrook, B.C. is a perfect example of a well-preserved heritage town. The city serves a destination, acts as a business hub, and provides the perfect tourist experience for all four seasons. As a result, Cranbrook has enjoyed significant investments and thus improvements to its infrastructure, but also to its social value, in terms of increased arts and culture, celebrating history and enjoying a balance of nature and modernity.

Tourism brings with it more diverse food, beverage, and retail options, increasing employment opportunities and stimulating new economic activity within the community. It is important that the growth associated with tourism is manageable and able to service the needs of both residents and visitors while being able to adequately staff the additional positions required.

The fastest growing city in Saskatchewan, Martensville, also happens to be the newest and second fastest growing city in Canada. Just as with significant increases in tourism, growth of this kind places strain on resources and services. Martensville seems to be responding to this growth well, as can be seen in the city’s ability to expand to meet the retail, commercial and social needs required to satisfy a growing population.

Prince Rupert, B.C., meanwhile, serves as a transportation hub for the North Coast, as the first and last port of call for cargo ships, frequented by cruise ships and wildlife alike, making it a perfect stop for tourists. Dawson Creek, B.C., like Prince Rupert, has also asserted itself as a regional transportation node, with access by bus, air and rail. As “Mile 0” of the Alaskan Highway, Dawson Creek sees many visitors each year.

It is expected that international tourists to Canada will reach 1.8 billion by 2030 and with an increase of this capacity a fear exists that the tourism sector in Canada, and indeed around the world, will experience a labour shortage by 2015, as many places lack the infrastructure required to sustain droves of tourists.

Caution must be exercised as there are negative aspects to unsustainable tourism, associated with rapid growth and insufficient services and infrastructure to meet growing demand. Real benefits to the community will not simply result from seasonal, part time jobs, often with no benefits and low pay. Increasing numbers of visitors can lead to congestion and without adequate support could result in strain being placed on local resources like accommodations, and could exceed the capacity of infrastructure (i.e. roadways), increasing polarization between residents and visitors. Mismanagement and poor planning could result in a depletion of resources and increased reliance on public funds to service any associated costs.

Despite increases in international travel, and although Canada has a natural geographic advantage, showcasing four seasons of adventure, Canadian tourism is in decline, down 20 percent since 2000. In 2010, Canadians accounted for 80 percent of tourism spending in Canada, despite visits from approximately 16 million international travelers each year. Even tourists from the United States, Canada’s most frequent visitor, have declined from 75 percent to 55 percent over the past decade.

Canada, which was one of the top tourist destinations in the 1970s, has fallen to 18th in global ranking – unable to fully capitalize on a burgeoning middle class from places such as China, Korea, Brazil and Mexico. Tourism is the fastest growing industry in the world, growing at a rate of 4 percent, with 1 billion international travelers, generating $1 trillion in international revenue.

Declines in tourism could also mean significant declines in international trade and exports for Canada as the country struggles to compete with a shifting global travel business. Much of this could be improved if every level of government would increase focus and funding in order to capitalize on the many social and economic benefits that tourism offers.

Deloitte has suggested that a 1 percent increase in Canadian tourism could generate an additional $817 million in Canadian exports over two years, establishing a more sustainable environment for tourism to thrive.

To develop a sustainable local tourism industry, it is important to clearly brand a community, highlighting natural endowments, maximizing existing heritage resources and identifying a clear market and actively marketing these qualities, as well as making several structural changes to the process by which visitors acquire travel documents and VISAs, specifically when considering the increasing tourist markets from BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

It must also be noted that Canada is one of the most expensive countries in terms of airfare. When the Canadian dollar is doing well, it has even more of an impact on the Canadian economy as it will drive tourism down and further contribute to the Canadian travel deficit.

By 2011, Canada’s travel deficit reached $16 billion as Canadians continue to spend more abroad than visitors are bringing into the country. Overcoming this deficit is difficult as growing tourist destinations such as India, China, Turkey and Thailand are becoming increasingly competitive.

The tourism industry in Canada employs 600 000 + people and supports an additional 1.6 million jobs nationwide for a total of 9.2 percent of all jobs in Canada. Tourism contributed $15.4 billion in export revenue in 2011 and accounts for 2 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), representing more than agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The federal government also saw $10.2 billion in revenue as a result. The cornerstones of any strong community, small to medium sized business enterprises also have a significant role to play in the tourism industry.

By investing in the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), heritage sites, parks, museums, airports, infrastructure and other public services, Canada can continue to market itself in 11 countries and expand its reach to Canadian, American, and international travelers alike, selling the natural beauty, urban and rural adventure, and four seasons of fun the country has to offer, while investing in the prosperity of the communities in which Canadians work and live and are proud to call home.

November 18, 2017, 10:41 AM EST