Moose, mountains and Mounties

The Canadian Tourism Commission has decided, in its wisdom, to pull its money out of the American market. The reason? According to Delivering Value, the Commission’s 2012 report, the average American only spends $518 per trip while each Brazilian traveller spends $1,874.

But look at the 2012 totals. There were 11.8 million U.S. tourists in Canada compared to 81,000 from Brazil. Total spending by American tourists in Canada was $6.4 billion compared to $3.7 billion from the next ten countries combined: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. Why turn your back on your biggest market by far, especially when every economist with an abacus is predicting a drop in the value of the Canadian dollar, a discount that will almost certainly renew interest in Canada among Americans?

After all, tourism in Canada is big business – $82 billion in revenue in 2012 and 608,500 jobs. Of that $82 billion, $15 billion comes from international travellers. To be sure, international travellers comprise a smaller proportion than they once did – about 19 percent of all visitors, down from 35 percent in 2000 – but is this any time to give up on the U.S. market?

Yet I can also make a case that federal money promoting international tourism is a waste. Here’s just one example from the CTC’s 74-page report. In 2012, the federal government spent $5 million to spread word about the Calgary Stampede. The CTC decided to see what the results were and discovered that 141 million people saw the message of whom 8,900 booked trips in the six months prior to the Stampede. They spent a total of $9.2 million, an amount that supported 71 jobs. $5 million spent for 71 jobs works out to $70,000 per job.

Here’s the bottom line. I read lots of American publications and watch plenty of American TV. I can’t name one memorable ad promoting Canada. Yet I can call up in my mind multiple images from the evocative ad campaign by Newfoundland and Labrador. Think of iceberg alley, the roosting Northern Gannets, children in the Viking village, and clothing drying on the line.

As recently as 1990, Canada was a top ten destination in the world. By 2011, we ranked 18th. By pulling back on marketing, we’re bound to slip further out of sight. In the last few years, annual CTC funding has dropped from $75 million in 2010/11 to $57.8 million for 2013/14. It’s time to decide if we want this business or not.

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