An Interview with the Honourable Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism
In the lead up to National Tourism Week, TIAC President and CEO Charlotte Bell sat down with Minister Chagger to discuss her first six months in office and the Government's plans to address the key issues facing Canada's travel and tourism Industry.
Charlotte Bell (CB): You have been the Minister of Small Business and Tourism for 6 short months, what has been the biggest surprise and what have you identified as the biggest challenge facing the industry?
Minister Chagger (MC): The biggest surprise for me is also one of the industry’s biggest challenges. The decision to withdraw government-funded promotional activities in the US leisure tourism market has placed our industry at a disadvantage now. As you know, the US continues to be our most important source market for tourists. Not only do we need a maintained presence there, we should be aggressive in that market. We are going to fight hard to attract the US traveller back to our country through Destination Canada’s new $30 million Connecting America marketing campaign. In addition, Budget 2016 provided an additional $50 million to Destination Canada over the next two years to attract visitors from other key markets, like China and Mexico.
As you know, in recent years we have seen the emergence of intense competition from new and emerging destinations in Asia, Europe, and Latin America. And as the global middle class continues to grow and find the time and money to travel abroad, we need to make sure we keep positioning Canada as a top-of-mind destination.
This is why we need to collaborate! Competition will continue to push the international industry forward, and our government’s work with other federal departments and agencies, our provincial and territorial partners and the many tourism stakeholders like TIAC will help us respond to the needs of Canada’s tourism industry.
CB: Many of the issues impacting Canada’s travel and tourism industry fall outside the Minister responsible for Tourism’s policy mandate, what is your plan to engage your Cabinet colleagues to address the key issues impacting Canada’s competitiveness as a global tourism destination?
MC: That’s the great thing about Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to a whole of government approach – we are all part of a team. It’s not a matter of being territorial or ignoring other parts of government because they don’t strictly fall within my mandate. For example, I have been working closely with Minister McCallum on lifting the visa requirement for Mexican nationals, which will have a positive impact on visitation to Canada. I am in touch with Minister Garneau and following the Government’s response to the Canada Transportation Act Review, particularly as it relates to air sector issues.
I am also coordinating with my colleague, Catherine McKenna, the Minister of the Environment, on expanding our National Parks system as well as Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, to grow Indigenous tourism in Canada. I believe that these areas show great promise since these are the types of unique experiences that international travellers of all ages are craving and that Canada can deliver to foreign visitors.
Above all, as the Minister responsible for tourism, I will be leading the effort at the Cabinet table to deliver a new federal vision for tourism that will identify a suite of measures to help drive international visitation to Canada and support growth in the tourism sector.
CB: Many Canadians, including millennials, cite the high cost of air travel, to and within Canada, as one of the main reasons for choosing to travel abroad rather than within Canada. What is your government’s plan to address the fees, taxes and levies that drive up air fares and drive down Canadian competitiveness?
MC: When it comes to tourism and air travel, you can’t have one without the other in this country. Last year, 54 percent of international tourists arrived at their destination by air, and in Canada, over eight million international tourists arrived here on a plane. So, in order to grow our tourism sector over the long term, we must maintain a competitive aviation sector.
Last year’s Canada Transportation Act Review closely looked at the sector and made several recommendations. My colleague, Minister Garneau, is actively leading the development of the Government’s response to the review. He is consulting with stakeholders and will give close consideration to the review’s aviation sector recommendations. I’m working with Minister Garneau on important aviation sector issues like airport governance, air cost competitiveness, and foreign ownership limits on airlines, to name a few.
CB: Tourism in Canada is on the rise; economic recovery is driving international visitation while more Canadians are "staycationing" to deal with the low dollar. This increased demand requires an adequate labour supply. Your government announced short term measures to allow Temporary Foreign Workers as a release valve. What is your government’s longer term solution to meet the labour supply needs of this vibrant economic sector?
MC: This is another example of how important and intertwined this sector is in our economy and communities. Tourists want world-class experiences and destinations, as well as quality services from trained employees - this in turn generates solid jobs for Canadians.
This doesn’t happen overnight though. I understand that labour shortages continue to be a concern facing the tourism industry and that some Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises rely on temporary foreign workers to fill their labour gaps.
A House of Commons committee is studying the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and we are looking forward to their recommendations. My colleague Minister Mihychuk, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, will be responsible for developing the Government of Canada’s response to the review. I’m definitely in touch with her to ensure that the tourism industry’s concerns are known.
CB: China is Canada’s third largest source market, yet Canada only has visa application centers in four cities in China with average wait times to obtain visas among the highest in the world. With increasing numbers of Chinese travellers worldwide, what is your government’s plan to reduce visa approval times in China, and is there any plan to add visa application centers in some of China’s large cities that are currently unserved?
MC: The number of Chinese nationals looking to come to Canada has more than doubled in the last 5 years - it is phenomenal growth and creating some problems in the system. To ease this, Chinese visitors are now automatically considered for a 10-year multiple-entry visa. The multiple-entry visa is valid for up to 10 years and allows visits to Canada for up to six months at a time. The vast majority of Chinese visitors received a multiple-entry visa in 2015.
Canada has visa offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. The Beijing and Shanghai visa offices have expanded streamlined processing, such as the CAN+ visa program, which is open to Chinese nationals who have travelled to Canada or the U.S. within the last 10 years.
The China Transit Program allows Chinese nationals to transit through approved Canadian airports on their way to and from the U.S. without a Canadian transit visa or electronic travel authorization, if they meet certain requirements. The program not only aims to help legitimate travellers transit through Canada on their way to and from the U.S.; it also supports economic development by making Canadian international airports more attractive to both airlines and passengers travelling to and from the U.S.
This is just the beginning, there is plenty more work to do!
CB: Min. Chagger you recently attended and experienced Rendez-vous Canada 2016 Montreal.....Given that tourism contributes significantly to Canada’s overall economic, cultural and social fabric, what are your plans to develop a whole of government Federal Tourism Strategy that sets aggressive targets and goals to ensure that Canada maximizes the opportunity for long-term, sustainable growth in this important sector?
MC: I had a fantastic time at Rendez-Vous. It is so important for me to have a chance to meet and speak with the incredible people who make up this industry. I understand that this year set a record with over 26,000 appointments and 536 buyers from 28 countries. That’s great news! To add to this, 2015 was a banner year for tourism in Canada, with 7.5 percent growth in international overnight arrivals.
The Government of Canada wants to capitalize on this momentum and sustain growth over the long term. That’s exactly what we are doing, and what we’ll continue to do. We have made important contributions to Destination Canada for marketing the Canadian brand with its tourism partners – both public and private sector ones. We are looking at all the other issues such as visas and air travel. Our first job is to get people here – because I know that once they experience what tourism in Canada is about, they will be coming back for more.