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Banker and former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna on the dramatic coastline of Cap-Pele, N.B.The Globe and Mail

The federal government has tapped banker and former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna to lead a blue-chip panel that will help develop a new tourism strategy for Canada.

The industry already supports nearly two million Canadians, but it is struggling to keep up with competitors around the world. Canada used to be one of the top 10 destinations for tourists, but has slipped to 17th in recent years.

In the summer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly to develop a federal strategy by next year to boost the industry. As part of this effort, Ms. Joly is launching pan-Canadian consultations on Monday in Niagara Falls, Ont., as well as announcing the creation of the advisory council Mr. McKenna will lead, called Jobs and the Visitor Economy.

Other members of the committee, which will act as a sounding board for Ms. Joly, will include former federal heritage minister Liza Frulla and former Quebec finance minister Raymond Bachand, with international business consultant Dominic Barton as an honorary member.

“One of the things that excites me so much is how elastic the demand is [in the tourism sector],” Mr. McKenna said in an interview. “If you’re looking at traditional sectors such as mining or oil, you are constrained by the ability to find ore or oil and get them to market. In the case of tourism, it has the ability to grow, and grow significantly, if the proper planning and resources are applied.”

Tourism represents about 2 per cent of Canada’s GDP, supporting 1.8 million jobs. According to Statistics Canada, the country attracted 21 million international tourists in 2017, up from 16 million in 2013.

“Our government knows that tourism helps every part of the country, urban and rural, by creating good middle-class jobs that can’t easily be replaced,” Ms. Joly said in a statement. “I look forward to meeting with Canadians to talk about their vision and ideas to grow Canada’s visitor economy. Let’s showcase Canada’s spectacular natural assets, our world-class attractions, our unique cultures and people.”

Tourism is a shared jurisdiction between the federal and provincial governments, but a key issue facing Ottawa is improving air traffic routes to make it easier for tourists to come to Canada by adding more direct flights from abroad.

“I have a personal obsession on transportation, I think it’s a shame that we lose millions of travelers every year to U.S. airports. That is an area in which we can make improvements,” Mr. McKenna said.

Mr. McKenna said the Canadian tourism sector must get better at using social media and artificial intelligence technology to attract visitors, given that most tourists plan their holidays online. For starters, he said, the industry needs to better understand what potential clients are looking for when they are contemplating a trip to Canada.

In her mandate letter, Ms. Joly was asked to work with other levels of government to “promote Canadian tourism and strengthen the Canadian brand abroad for tourists." After launching her consultation in Niagara Falls, Ms. Joly is scheduled to meet with tourism and travel experts in Winnipeg, Churchill, Man., Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Yellowknife, Victoria, Vancouver and Kelowna, B.C.

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