A new report released Thursday says the province reportedly missed out on nearly $16 billion in foreign tourist spending between 2006 and 2012 because it failed to attract foreign visitors to Ontario at the same rate of increase that was seen internationally.
In its report, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce said the province “missed an opportunity to capitalize on growing global tourism demand to drive even greater economic growth.” The result: a $16 billion “tourism gap,” described as the difference between potential and actual growth in tourism visitation to Ontario.
Reacting to the report, released in partnership with the London Chamber of Commerce, the head of Tourism London said it outlined clearly how big of an impact tourism has on the province’s economy.
“It’s a $25 billion contribution to provincial GDP, it’s the 16th largest industry contributor in the province of Ontario, and 360,000 people are employed, and that represents a little over 5 per cent of the provincial employment, and in London it represents 3 per cent of employment,” said John Winston, General Manager of Tourism London. “It’s endemic, throughout the province, that tourism contributes to economic growth and development in the province of Ontario.”
Tourism is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world, with the number of international tourist arrivals increasing from 25 million in 1950 to 1.2 billion in 2015. In that same period, the report says, global tourism receipts jumped from US$2 billion to US$1.3 trillion. Those numbers are slated to continue rising until at least 2030.
But while global tourism visits have risen, Ontario’s numbers for non-resident tourist – or overnight visitors – has declined, down from 9.8 million arrivals in 2002 to 8.4 million in 2015. The province’s same-day visitor numbers have also declined, down from about 17 million to 6 million in the same period, the report says, attributing it to a 75 per cent drop in American visitors.
The report says the province’s tourism gap has “contributed to a growing deficit in the province’s international travel account.” Simply put: Ontario residents are spending more money abroad than those from abroad are spending in Ontario.
“We have maximized our revenues,” Winston said. “Eighty-five to 90 per cent of visitations that we see in our region, and in the province in general, come from the province. People within the province travelling within the province. It’s that last 10 to 15 per cent that is growing exponentially around the world, and what the report is saying is that to achieve real growth in our tourism industry, you’ve got to tap into the international tourism market.”
The province has stated that it is committed to growing tourism in the province, and over the summer, released a Tourism Action Plan as a first step towards a longer-term provincial Strategic Framework for Tourism, which it plans to make public soon. In the action plan, released in June, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport said it would act on 12 initial steps to support Ontario’s tourism sector across five identified priority areas.
Thursday’s report from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce addresses some of the proposals and steps outlined in the province’s Tourism Action Plan, and lists nine recommendations it says would help close the tourism gap and create long-term sustainable growth in the province’s tourism industry. Some of the recommendations include developing a government-wide Ontario tourism strategy with measurable targets, working with industry to “more clearly define the role and responsibilities of the province’s tourism organizations,” working to reduce regulatory and cost burdens for tourism operators, and incorporating tourism into provincial infrastructure planning.
Winston says there needs to be sustained engagement with the tourism industry to ensure that product and experiences people want to see are what’s being promoted and developed.
“You look at some of the polling they’ve done around the world and Canada is the number one tourist destination for many people worldwide,” Winston said. “We just aren’t grasping enough of that interest from that industry or from those people visiting to offer them the kinds of choice that they want to see in terms of the experience that they want to have.”
Attracting visitors who know nothing about Ontario is a challenge, Winston said, given some of the province’s similarities with the United States.
“It’s the Ontario, the Canadiana piece, what differentiates us from the rest of the United States and from the rest of the world, our diversity, some of our attractions,” Winston said, listing Toronto, Niagara Falls, and Ottawa as examples.
“The question on the broader scale is, what would attract an international visitor to spend all that money coming in from France, or Russia, or Sweden, Denmark, what would attract them to our area and to our city and our province that warrants the investment that they’re going to make?”
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce report says 2016 may see some things turn in Ontario’s favour. In particular, Canada’s low dollar should attract more visitors, particularly from the United States, and lower than usual gas prices should see increases in land travel. The goal now, it says, is to ensure those gains are long-term.
(With files from Mike Stubbs)