Smoother, faster crossing times lie ahead for both American and Canadian travellers, while Asian markets will become a bigger focus in 2012.
A new year usually prompts another trip to the crystal ball in the corner of my office to try to see what lies ahead for CTC and Canada’s tourism industry at large. [Cue suitable mystic music…] Not surprisingly, the picture is somewhat murky, as the international tourism landscape is continuously changing.
However, there are two clear issues already on our 2012 agenda. First is discerning the impact of the new border rules between Canada and the US that were announced this past December after talks between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US President Barack Obama. Opening up the border in any way between our countries has to be good for two-nation travel. We hope it will also diminish the negative psychological impact left over in American minds from the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative; the new requirement of a passport put a good many of our southern neighbours off travel to Canada.
The new rules promise to facilitate quicker border crossings for those on trusted-traveller programs. But will they entice previous customers back to Canada? It’s too early to say right now, though things should become clearer as the new year unfolds. It was most heartening to hear President Obama understand the importance of tourism to the economy: “Put simply, we're going to make it easier to conduct the trade and travel that creates jobs and we're going to make it harder for those who would do us harm and threaten our security.”
As I’ve discussed before, there is a great opportunity for us to work with Brand USA (formerly the “Corporation for Travel Promotion in the US” for those who missed the rebranding) to attract travellers to visit both our countries. For example, our Research team estimates that 20% to 30% of the Australians who travel to Canada actually fly to the US and cross here by land. The improved data collection that the new border rules will provide should help us track these kinds of visitors more accurately, which has to be good for Canada.
The second major theme we’re watching is the continued emergence of the Asian markets relative to the fiscal challenges faced by Europe. A lot of our competitors, such as Tourism Australia, are already aggressively increasing their focus in this arena.
It’s impossible to predict the political, economic or social outcomes for Europe—each week seems to bring more bad news headlines—let alone the impact of those on outbound travel. Trying to make sense of it all, we get different views from different parts of Canada. Take the UK as a case in point; reports from last year’s World Travel Market indicate that tour operators expect a strong year in 2012, but the Visiting Friends and Relatives segment of the market will continue to be weak.
Amid this turmoil, we should avoid a race to the bottom with prices. Once you’ve made deep discounts to the bone, it’s hard to get rates back up to realistic levels. Instead, let’s focus on Canada’s inherent strength as a destination. We’re in it for the long haul (no pun).
We at the CTC have already undergone our strategic shift, and like everyone else in the tourism industry we face the continued challenge of moving forward in a tough environment. But with the formal announcement last year of the Federal Tourism Strategy and the increased interest in a cross-departmental view of tourism at the federal government level, we’re poised to make really positive breakthroughs on policy priorities in 2012. Watch this space!
What are the issues making you burn the midnight oil in 2012? Feel free to share them, because by working together with our partners we all succeed together. Tweet them to me @CTCCEO or leave a note in the comments below.