Canada's tourism operators feel good about 2014, but are less certain through the end of the decade as the industry faces challenges that could affect travel patterns around the world.
A survey by HLT Advisory prepared in advance of the Canadian Tourism Marketing Summit Feb. 12-13 found that two-thirds of tourism businesses in the country were "very optimistic or optimistic" about the industry's prospects this year compared to the last several years.
Their opinions are rooted in reality: the more than 600 respondents represent a cross-section of the country's tourism industry including destination marketing organizations, attractions, lodging providers, those who put together festivals and events, transportation and service companies and other industry suppliers.
The industry is a bellwether for the broader economy, generating $81.7-billion and employing more than 600,000 Canadians from coast-to-coast. The Conference Board of Canada recently underscored its importance, pointing out that travel and tourism make a bigger contribution to gross domestic product than agriculture, fishing and hunting combined.
While a good year would be a boost to the Canadian economy, HLT Advisory's Managing Director, Lyle Hall, said external factors were largely responsible for the optimism. He also expressed concern over a reliance on a lower Canadian dollar as a strategy to help the industry.
"Much of the optimism seems to stem from a strengthening U.S. and world economy, which is good news for both leisure and group/convention travel," he said. "The unnerving aspect of the survey results was not so much the repeated concerns over cost, particularly air travel, but the belief that a weaker Canadian dollar might alleviate this problem. I would have thought we'd learned by now that we can't discount ourselves to prosperity."
Indeed, the optimism is built on a shaky foundation. When asked to extend their forecast through to 2020, just over half of the respondents expressed optimism.
Their main concerns centered around the cost of airfare, inadequate funding for various public-sector entities that help boost the industry and a concern that too many organizations might be involved in marketing structure...taking away from funds needed for in-marketing promotion.
More than one quarter of the respondents believe Canada could get back to the levels of international visitation last seen in 2000 by 2017 (19.6 million international visitors), a target discussed in the 2013 Canadian Tourism Annual report.
"The target we identified for 2017 is aggressive but we need to focus on something meaningful," Mr. Hall said. "It's not as simple as saying there needs to be more money for marketing. We need to be smarter about how and where we spend it, as well as making sure we minimize duplication and waste."
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