I am still warming up to the opportunities of being in the travel domain. Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) extended an invitation to attend their annual trade event titled ‘Focus Canada‘ held at the Park Hyatt Resort & Spa in Goa earlier this March. With over 140 rooms booked by them, the resort was our playground for a week, though most of the activity was happening in the Salcete Ballroom (sadly the Ballroom was used for meetings).
All the biggies in Canadian Tourism were here and so were more than a 120 tour operators – roughly half from Canada and India each. Those from Canada are called Suppliers, as they sell their regions, packages, tours, hotels etc. to their counterparts in India. And you guessed it; those from India are called ‘Buyers’ for obvious reasons.
Canada being a vast country, it was also represented by several of its provinces – Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, each of it being a destination on its own.
Stewart Beck, the Canadian High Commissioner in India is upbeat about the growing economic relations between the two countries. Not only can Canada become a major source of India’s petroleum requirements and hence decrease the latter’s dependence on the Gulf region, but Canada’s robust banking system has been viewed very favorably by India, which can lead to a knowledge-based partnership. (Canada had a budget surplus for 11 years in a row right till the financial crisis of 2008, making it one of the few integrated economies of the world to have weathered the storm well).
More relevant to tourism, his team has worked towards increasing visa issuances for Indians going to Canada; high rejection rate was a sore point for most operators till a few years ago. In 2011, approximately 95,000 temporary resident visas were issued in India. This is an increase from 2010 when 89,320 visas were issued and in 2009 the figure was 70,826 visas. Student visas have gone up four times in the past three years, indicative of Canada’s receptiveness.
CTC’s budget for 2012-13 may possibly be slightly reduced from 100 mn CAD of last year. Which makes it all the more imperative that they work smartly if they want to increase their tourist base from India. Greg Klassen, CTC VP International, however adds that the budget allocation to emerging markets, of which India falls under (the others being Brazil, Mexico, Japan & China), may increase. He’s also confident about meeting his numbers, as there are various factors working in favor of Canada as a tourist destination. Firstly, it has moved to the #1 brand country from #12, in little under six years. It’s also the globally #1 most recommended destination. And the discerning high-end Indian traveller is well informed of such global trends.
Derek Galpin, who’s headed India (along with his China responsibilities) ever since CTC started their operations in Aug 2009 in India, says they would now like to go beyond selling the four major provinces (Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec) and provide a pan-Canadian experience. Indian travelers to Canada are considered lucrative as they are among the highest spenders (surprise! surprise!). An Indian traveller spends around 1600 CAD per trip compared to the 1400 CAD spent by other international tourists. He also has an average stay of 24 days in comparison to the average of 14 from the Core market. The focus is also to switch Canada from being a ‘summer-only destination’ for Indian travelers to a year round destination.
Canada has traditionally been a large VFR (Visiting Friends & Relatives) market for Indians, what with most of us having at least one relative or friend settled or studying there. However, there is great scope for various other categories of travelers – MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions), FIT (Foreign Independent Tour – basically tourists that go on their own) and everyone else.
Ontario (the home of Niagara falls and Toronto) is planning new attractions. An aquarium is coming up at the base of CN Tower. When open in 2013, the Ripley’s Aquarium will be the largest in Canada. For the discerning tourist, a Van Gogh exhibition will be on display at the National Gallery from May to September 2012. And to facilitate trade interactions and work closely with Indian operators, Ontario is considering an office in New Delhi shortly.
British Columbia (BC), home to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, attracted 30% of all Indian tourists coming into Canada. To further increase this number, they opened a massive convention center in Vancouver during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Vancouver is also the starting point for several Alaska cruises, and a capacity of 800,000 passengers is going to be added soon. Itineraries are being chalked out to cover new locations in BC.
Alberta, which shares the Rocky Mountains along with BC, has two of the most popular mountain destinations in North America – Banff and Jasper. A key attraction coming up is the Glacier Discovery Walk in Jasper National park, which will provide a unique experience focusing on the wonder of the ecosystem, glaciology, and natural & aboriginal history of Columbia Ice field in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This should be ready by mid 2013. Edmonton in Alberta is called the festival city, celebrating over 30 events annually and also houses the West Edmonton Mall (WEM), the largest shopping mall in North America and fifth largest in the world. Shop to your hearts delight here.
Ottawa, the capital of Canada, usually doesn’t figure on most travelers’ wish list. But this is soon about to change. Ottawa tourism is aggressively promoting it not only as the Capital city of Canada, but also for its unique mix of English & French culture, as a Green city that is completely walk-able and a Cosmopolitan city with an urban vibe – basically a tourist’s paradise. New attractions include redevelopment of Calypso Water and a 200,000 square foot convention center- the Ottawa Convention Centre .
CTC is also working hard to get Air Canada fly directly between India & Canada, which will not only be symbolic of Canada’s interest in the Indian traveller, but also result in increased tourism from this region.
If you are planning to visit Canada, there is no better time than to do it now. CTC is working closely with your favorite tour operator to offer attractive itineraries and simplify your visa process. All the best in your next trip to this exotic land.
This write-up cannot be completed without acknowledging that CTC is a great event organizer. The three day event was spread over five days to make it unstressful, providing lots of opportunities to network, relax and enjoy the ambience of the resort too. Most evenings were fun-filled, with dinner being sponsored by the Canadian provinces over live music, drinks and great conversations.
(Note: All images in this post are taken by a photographer appointed by CTC to capture the event. These images have been shared by CTC to display on this post along with my write-up).