Interview: With ADS, Canada set to offer Chinese visitors quality experience

Canada is rolling out the welcome mat for Chinese visitors now that it has secured its long awaited Approved Destination Status (ADS), but bargain-price trips won’t be among the offerings according to officials in the country’s tourism sector.

With Canada receiving the designation on Thursday during President Hu Jintao’s state visit to Canada ahead of the G20 summit in Ontario this weekend, Chinese tourists can now visit the country in organized, pre-sold tourist groups.

Canada joins a list of 130-plus nations and regions designated to receive Chinese travelers. However, unlike some earlier experiences of Chinese tourists, Chris Jones, vice president of public affairs of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), said the Canadian industry needed to “avoid some of the occurrence that happened in Australia and New Zealand with the tours becoming low quality, commoditized, too much pressured shopping, that kind of stuff.”

“What we have sought to do is least to make sure that the tours were going to be quality tours conducted by reputable operators who have the requisite insurance in place and are going to make sure they give the Chinese visitors a safe, quality and respectful experience.”

Stephen Regan, president and CEO of the Vancouver-based Council of Tourism Associations, said the ADS is a designation and opportunity the industry needs “to work through very carefully.”

“We don’t really want to be out there as a discount destination, we want to make sure we get high-yield customers and that when they come back to Canada, to (his home province) British Columbia in particular, they really get to see the authentic, iconic Canadian attractions, we want to make sure we do this right.”

Historically, the countries that have been granted ADS have experienced a 40 percent jump in Chinese tourists the first year, increasing to more than 50 percent after two years. Canada received 160,833 Chinese visitors last year.

The Ottawa-based Jones said speculatively Chinese visitors to Canada could reach 234,000 arrivals within a year or two.

“Even through the recession the Chinese market pre-ADS is the only one that has stayed in positive territory. So we’re confident now that we’re getting out of the recession and China’s economy seems healthy and Canada’s is reasonably healthy, with ADS we should stand to gain from increases in the number of visitors in that market.”

Unlike destinations like Thailand, and even Hong Kong, Regan said Canada would unlikely to be a cheap destination for Chinese, mainly because of its distance. It takes a minimum of 10 hours to fly to Vancouver, the closest international Canadian airport to China.

Both Air China and China Eastern Airlines are offering daily flights to Canada, while national carrier Air Canada is looking at increasing its China coverage.

“We’re looking to be a high-yield provider and provide a high-quality (experience) and let the Chinese nationals see iconic Canadian attractions and hopefully they’ll pay a premium to enjoy the Canadian experience,” Regan said.

“Part of that (expense) is going to be airfare, we’re not easy to get to. It’s probably a little bit more affordable to get to places in the United States, but those are the things that we’re working on.”

While Canada and China are currently celebrating 40 years of diplomatic relations, Richard Lee, who was born in China’s Guangdong province and is now an elected official serving as the British Columbia Parliamentary Secretary for the Asia Pacific Initiative, said: “It will increase our business opportunity here and is good way to showcase our scenery.”

“(This is an) Opportunity for people coming here to see. And if they like the place they can settle down here or do business. It’s good for promoting our trade and tourism industry,” he said.

“With our proximity (to China), airplanes coming from Asia, this is the shortest distance, they can go to America from here. But with the ADS they may be more inclined to stop in Vancouver so they can see more.”

While no one is quite sure how much economic spin-off the Chinese arrivals will bring to the country’s tourism sector – the figure 100 million Canadian dollars has been bandied about in the first year – that figure would be tiny considering the country’s overall tourism industry is worth about 72 billion Canadian dollars annually, according to the TIAC.

However, the arrivals numbers are forecast to grow and grow. The British Columbia government is forecasting Chinese arrivals to increase 10 percent this year and 15 percent in each of the two years following. Last year, about half of those 160,833 visitors came through the western province which hosted the Winter Olympic Games earlier this year.

In Richmond, a Vancouver-area city popular with Chinese immigrants, Tracy Lakeman, CEO of Tourism Richmond, said her group had been preparing for the implementation of the ADS for the past three years.

In addition to being the home of the Vancouver airport, the first arrival point for most Chinese visiting Canada, the city is about as Chinese-friendly as it gets. About 40 percent of Richmond’s 188,000 residents is Chinese, while overall, about 65 percent is of Asian descent, the highest concentration in the country.

With its abundance of Chinese restaurants, said to be the best in the world outside of mainland China, and Mandarin and Cantonese freely spoken, Lakeman said the city, a “friendship city” to both Qingdao and Xiamen, was a natural starting point for mainland visitors to embark on their exploration of the region and Canada.

“We have always felt Richmond was positioned very well to receive Chinese visitors, mostly because many of their friends and family have moved here,” she said, adding about 6 percent of visitors to the city were Asian. It was now targeting 10 percent Chinese visitation.

To promote Richmond as a gateway to Canada, the city is working with the national-level Canadian Tourism Commission and the provincial-level Tourism British Columbia to create travel products that will appeal to Chinese visitors. It is also working with China-based tour agents in training and is hosting a Richmond Day at the Canada Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo in September.

“We see (coming to Richmond) as presenting a great opportunity for a Chinese visitor when they come to Canada because it is kind of like easing them into integration into the Canadian culture,” Lakeman said.

While an influx of Chinese visitors will indeed be welcome, the TIAC’s Jones said the new arrivals will likely be unable to replace the Americans who account for 80 percent of all visitors to Canada. Since 2001, however, inbound travel by Americans has been in steady decline, down 53 percent.

“Let’s be realistic, we’re not going to replace that lost visitation just on the strength of the Chinese market, unless it takes off massively. It will help for sure, it’s a very good sign and we’re delighted to have it. There’s a good history between the two countries.”

Editor: Pliny

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