Four special-interest tourism officials made the case Wednesday for stronger efforts in their respective areas during a wide-ranging panel discussion at the annual congress of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC). The congress, which wraps up today, was held in Gatineau, Quebec.
The niches are recognized as important growth areas in the Canadian government’s latest tourism strategy, introduced in May.
One of those strategies is to build products reflecting the country’s rich heritage of aboriginal peoples. Keith Henry, CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, said operators of indigenous tourism companies want to link with non-indigenous organizations. That will help improve their products and include native culture in broader tour packages. He also noted the emergence of fully-indigenous tour packages.
“We can aspire to be like the Maori branding of New Zealand – but we’re not there yet,” he said. The value of indigenous tourism in Canada is now $1.9 billion, about one-third that in New Zealand. He added that given the much larger diversity of Canada’s indigenous cultures, the potential exists to outshine New Zealand.
Culinary tourism was represented by Rebecca Mackenzie, president of the Culinary Tourism Alliance, which operates across the central Canadian province of Ontario. Her aim, she said, is to encourage “an authentic taste of place” by not only encouraging and promoting local food producers and chefs, but consulting with destination marketing organizations to ensure that such initiatives as branded food trails are market ready.
The group also promotes Canadian efforts internationally. Mackenzie said, “The UNWTO has just launched its second food tourism report and the only way Canada is there is because we’re sitting at the table.” She called on operators to engage political leaders, arguing that Montreal is Canada’s top culinary destination in part because a top-level culinary committee involves decision-makers.
Canada’s image as a gay-friendly country already is a built-in asset for attracting foreign LGBT tourists, said Darrell Schuurman, CEO of the Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Stating that LGBT tourists spend $8.6 billion annually and throw their support to destinations and businesses recognized as friendly to that community, he said the challenge for tourism managers is to understand the target market.
“It’s not homogeneous,” he said, “just as the heterosexual market is not homogeneous.” He said every organization can appeal to LGBT clients. “You don’t have to have gay bars in your town — just be supportive of gay customers.”
Highlighting Canada’s Francophone culture was also part of the national government’s new strategy. Representing that market was Roukya Abdi Aden of RDEE Canada, a not-for-profit organization promoting economic development within the Francophone and Acadian communities, especially those outside Quebec province.
Noting that French-speaking tourists can be drawn not only from European countries like France and Belgium but also from the much closer United States, she pointed to initiatives like her organization’s resources for tourism operators who want to cash in on Francophone travel, the collaboration RDEE has with Quebec universities, and a new Francophone tourism trail that links 150 culturally significant places and events that bridge Canada’s French-speaking communities.
The TIAC congress, which brings together leaders across Canada’s various tourism sectors, wraps up Wednesday.