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Tourists enjoy the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls. In 2002, Canada ranked 7th in the world in the number of foreigners’ arrivals. It fell to 15th in 2010, behind countries such as Malaysia and Ukraine. (Sheryl Nadler/The Canadian Press/Sheryl Nadler/The Canadian Press)
Tourists enjoy the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls. In 2002, Canada ranked 7th in the world in the number of foreigners’ arrivals. It fell to 15th in 2010, behind countries such as Malaysia and Ukraine. (Sheryl Nadler/The Canadian Press/Sheryl Nadler/The Canadian Press)

CAMPBELL CLARK

Why Canada needs a smarter tourism strategy Add to ...

There is a map of the world on which Canada is shrinking, and it offers some directions for the future.

Canada’s share of international tourism has declined dramatically in the past decade. It means more than bad times for bed-and-breakfasts. It could be a peek at the country’s economic future. And that's partly because there's evidence, bolstered by a recent study, that trade follows tourism.

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It should be instructive. Canada is smaller on the map of world tourism not because it’s changed, but because the lens has shifted from the United States to places such as China, India and Brazil. And that’s increasingly true for Canada’s broader place in the world.

It turns out that tourism is a piece of foreign policy. It means domestic shifts, too. Tourism Minister Maxime Bernier travelled to Asia last week to meet tour operators. But there’s also transportation, immigration and other obstacles here.

In 2002, Canada ranked seventh in the world in the number of foreigners’ arrivals. It fell to 15th in 2010, behind countries such as Malaysia and Ukraine. StatsCan reported Wednesday that so far this year, arrivals are down 3.3 per cent.

The big reasons are obvious. The loonie rose against the U.S. dollar and a recession hit the United States hard, so fewer Americans came north.

Waiting for the U.S. dollar or economy to bounce back isn’t a growth plan. There’s increasing competition. The growth markets are the expanding middle classes in places like Brazil or Asia.

It is an accelerated version of what the export-driven Canadian economy faces. Trade with the United States will remain big, but emerging economies will drive growth.

Tourism also means trade, and not just because it is a $15-billion-a-year export. There’s new evidence that tourism leads to trade and that more Brazilian tourists will later mean more exports to Brazil. Familiarity breeds trade.

It’s long been clear that travel and trade are linked. But a recent study by Kiyong Keum, International Tourism and Trade Flows, published in the journal Tourism Economics, crunched the South Korean numbers and found that it’s usually increased tourism between countries that causes more trade – not the other way around. Promoting tourism from a country, it suggests, would increase trade.

But Canadian tourism problems were exposed by a soft U.S. market. It needs marketing in new places. New air routes encourage new tourists. But half of Canadian air trips go through the world’s most expensive airport to land a plane – Toronto’s Pearson. Other airports are losing domestic business to border airports such as the one in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

Canada’s immigration system aims to keep visitors from staying illegally or as asylum-seekers, so visitors from wealthy nations don’t need visas, but those from developing countries do. Tourists are discouraged by waiting. Now Canada needs to find a way to let new customers in more quickly.

There have been steps. The Canadian Tourism Commission shifted marketing to emerging markets. Canada finally completed a tourism deal with China that led to a big increase in trips – but also visa backlogs. That’s why the tourism industry was happy when Stephen Harper announced in a new air agreement with Brazil in August that three new visa offices were opened.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Bernier announced a new tourism strategy. It sounded like bureaucratic gobbledygook: a committee of senior bureaucrats from departments such as Foreign Affairs, Immigration, and Transportation, to work together on tourism.

It might end up as gobbledygook, but the tourism industry is relieved to have a place where policies on tourism are supposed to align. If the job is to come to grips with the new map of the world, they’ve got a lot to do.

Campbell Clark writes about foreign affairs from Ottawa

Follow on Twitter: @camrclark

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