Canada gains Approved Destination Status

More than 40 million Chinese travel overseas every year. And now that China has granted Canada Approved Destination Status, motor coach associations and operators are hoping more of them climb aboard.

The status, which eases visa and passport processes for Chinese citizens, should help the Canadian tourism industry by permitting Chinese travel agents to market Canada as a vacation spot. Before the ADS status, Chinese citizens were restricted to travel for business, study or visits to relatives. In 2007, that accounted for just under 160,000 Chinese visits to Canada.

The ADS designation is also important because only certain licensed travel agencies may operate international outbound travel services. In 1997, 67 travel agencies were so authorized. Today, that number is closer to 1,000. It's estimated that 90 percent of Chinese traveling abroad choose group tours — and those usually involve motor coach travel.

Gaining insight

The Canadian Tourism Commission and Statistics Canada have been studying the Chinese market as part of its International Travel Survey. The survey has already revealed finds such as:

  • Summer months are more popular for travel, peaking in July.
  • In 2007, 68 percent of Chinese visitors to Canada were male.
  • The largest age group was 35 to 44.
  • Sixty-two percent of them got around by bus.

The World Travel and Tourism Council forecasts that the Chinese will be the second-largest tourist market by 2017 and that by 2020, China will be the fourth-largest source of outbound tourists, with 100 million travelers per year. And if previous visits are any indicator, they'll be throwing around some serious cash. The average Chinese visitor spends about $3,000 per visit. Another piece of travel-industry research indicates that the average Chinese visitor spends $175 a day on merchandise, and that shopping ranks high on the list of popular activities.

Taking action

Canadian tourism officials have been busy already. In April, the Canadian Tourism Commission put together Showcase Canada-China in China, an opportunity for potential buyers and vendors to meet. Tourism Vancouver has expanded its Chinese-language website. Air China has announced it will expand its flights into Canada. And Motor Coach Canada has been hard at work putting together guidelines for the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) that Chinese outbound travel agencies can use to select a qualified motor coach carrier, according to Brian Crow, president of Motor Coach Canada. Guidelines will cover everything from coach insurance and logbooks to fair shopping practices. It's expected that TIAC will eventually issue a list of approved Canadian operators.

"The first time Chinese visitors come to Canada, they'll probably travel by coach," says Crow. "If we give them the experience they're looking for, they'll travel by coach on their next visit too." Crow says that learning what Chinese tourists want will be an ongoing process. He points out how tour planners were surprised in recent years by the Japanese request for tours to the site of "Anne of Green Gables" — a place that exists only in fiction. And it's not uncommon for foreign tourists to expect to see Niagara Falls, Toronto and other landmarks — all in one day. Nevertheless, Crow is cautiously optimistic. "Chinese tourism may not be the savior of every company out there, and existing Chinese tour bus operators will initially be the most prepared for this market, but I think it will ultimately be a boost for the business."

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