Hoping for a Chinese invasion

Canada’s tourism industry wants its slice of this rapidly expanding group of travellers

Getty Images

About 100 million Chinese tourists will be leaving their country every year by 2020, the largest group of travellers on Earth, and Canada’s tourism industry wants its slice of the rapidly expanding pie.

After eight years of negotiations, Canada received “approved designation status” from China in June, meaning Canadian tourism agencies are now free to advertise in the country. “This is a very big deal,” says Michele McKenzie, president and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission. “We need to close the sale to draw them in.”

The CTC hopes Chinese visitors will generate an extra $300 million a year in tourism revenue by 2015. McKenzie says they’ll be drawn by “Chinese-speaking guides and the type of amenities they’re looking for,” and lists Canada’s national parks and destinations like the CN Tower, Niagara Falls and the Rocky Mountains as the biggest attractions. She also says the Chinese are fascinated by Norman Bethune, the Canadian physician who died serving in the second Sino-Japanese War in 1939. His birth site in Gravenhurst, Ont., as well as a museum dedicated to his life, is listed as a “must-see” on most Chinese itineraries.

The first arrivals, several small groups of about 350, have already come to Canada and made their way around sites in Edmonton, Ottawa and several other destinations. Their holidays are normally very short, so they keep itineraries packed, and although they might try the occasional Western breakfast, they generally like to stay within their comfort zone, sticking to the authentic Chinese cuisine that Canada has to offer. “China is the fastest-growing outbound tourism market in the world; there is intense competition,” says McKenzie. But, she says, because there’s already so much Chinese culture already here, “Canada has a big advantage.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.