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We started with regular reports several times per month from tourism hubs Beijing, Singapore and Capetown. Gateway Beijing and Gateway Singapore, for example, signify that the reporters are writing from those cities although their coverage of the business of travel will meander to other locales in their regions. Read about the series here, and check out all the stories in the series here.
It’s not just that arrivals to Canada from China are reaching new peaks. New direct flights launched over a year ago are showing positive effects. In particular, they swing the demographics to millennials and, because these travelers tend to be independent and free-spirited, this helps reshape tourism to beyond Vancouver and Toronto.
Direct services such as Hainan Airlines’ thrice-weekly Beijing-Calgary, which launched in June 2016, and Air China’s thrice-weekly Beijing-Montreal service, which began in September 2015 (the first transpacific direct link between Asia and Montreal), are a fillip for central and eastern Canada to nab a share of Chinese travelers.
And it’s millennials who are driving growth, says Destination Canada’s managing director-China, Derek Galpin. There are around 250 million of them in China, he points out.
Alberta, for example, benefits from the Beijing-Calgary service, Calgary being a good jump-off pad to iconic attractions such as Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies.
The flights demonstrate continued interest from China in Alberta tourism experiences, says Karen Soyka, Travel Alberta’s vice president-business development. China is now Alberta’s largest and fastest-growing Asian market with 85,000 arrivals in 2015 (the latest figure available), and has a rise in millennial travelers, she says.
IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
Last year saw an all-time high 610,000 Chinese arrivals to Canada, an increase of 24 percent year-on-year, making China the third-largest market in arrivals after the UK and the U.S., and the second-largest in spending after the U.S.
The apparent surge of Chinese tourists to Canada in 2016 contrasts with U.S. Commerce Department figures for January to March (down 0.5 percent) and March 2017 (down 2.1 percent). U.S. President Trump’s anti-China rhetoric and travel bans undoubtedly are part of the reason for the decline.
It’s a huge leap in less than 10 years — in 2008, Canada welcomed only 160,000 Chinese visitors — and while all major destinations worldwide can claim a “me-too” in growth when swarms of Chinese started traveling long-haul, Galpin says Canada has outperformed the rest.
“Of all the new destinations tourists from China are discovering, Canada is a top choice, and we’re expecting more strong growth at around 23 percent this year,” he says.
Canada does have a bit of a head start over other leading destinations, as more than 1.3 million Chinese Canadians live there, creating a healthy visiting friends-and-relatives market.
However, Canada was granted Approved Destination Status by China only in 2010. The EU got that designation in 2004, and the U.S. did in 2007. What spurred the exponential growth for Canada was more direct flights, while a 10-year multiple-entry visa for Chinese to Canada since 2005 also helped.
Overall, air seat capacity grew 26 percent last year, with Canada now accessible from 11 gateway cities in China, and its four largest metropolitan areas are all served with non-stop flights from China. In the first half of this year, air seat capacity from China to Canada rose 36.9 percent over the same period in 2016.
Canada is also in the right place at an opportune time. On the one hand, adventure travel, polar exploration and road trips have captured young Chinese travelers’ imaginations, and are expected to rise 52 percent, 38 percent and 75 percent, respectively, over the next three years. That comes from a 2016 survey of wealthy Chinese millennials ages 18–36 conducted by Hurun Research Institute in conjunction with Marriott International.
“You can see from the launch of new direct flights how tourism is increasingly extending beyond British Columbia and Ontario,” says Galpin. “Northern Canada is also becoming increasingly popular for experiences like witnessing the magical Northern Lights, dog-sledding and polar bear encounters.”
KEY TO RESOLVING PEAKS AND TROUGHS
It’s just that Destination Canada needs to overcome its main challenge of increasing year-round tourism and spreading tourists to more places.
“Our huge tourism peak is in summer holidays, which is the same everywhere,” says Galpin. “The swing to young millennials aged 20–34 (also from its other key Asian destinations South Korea and Japan), making up 40 percent of all visitors to Canada in the last three years, is the key to resolving this. First, they are more flexible and willing to try alternative seasons, which can also provide good value. Secondly, they are looking for outdoor adventures and experiences, which we have in droves.”
Chinese-oriented features are taking shape.
“That’s why Asian-language hiking trail, canoeing and campground information is being developed for our National Parks. For off-season travelers, we promote the beauty of driving through colorful forests in the fall, such as the Lake Louise Wonderfall from September to October, and the Dark Skies Festival, when stargazers flock to Jasper National Park in winter. Much of Canada is transformed into a dazzling snowy wonderland through winter, so we also promote a variety of fun outdoor activities from ice festivals and dogsledding to sleigh rides, ice-skating and many other experiences that make Canada an exhilarating year-round destination.”
2018 will be the Year of China-Canada Tourism, which Galpin expects will greatly enhance cultural exchanges and result in “a big increase” in visitors between the two countries.
Destination Canada will continue to step up efforts in China, working closely with tourism partners and focusing marketing on millennials. Beyond traditional marketing and media outreach, it is engaging the digitally connected travelers, many of them millennials. One way, the tourism board believes, is inviting online influencers to explore Canada and report their experiences to these readers.
China also necessitates a “mobile-first” approach, says Galpin. “The social channels we use include Weibo, WeChat and Today’s Headline and all are predominantly mobile. Our video distribution platforms including iQiYi, Youku, Headline News, Tencent and Sina are also accessed primarily through mobile devices.”