The Canadian tourism industry is calling for urgent action from governments at all levels, saying it is on “the precipice of an unprecedented decline” that could have an impact on jobs in the industry.
The message is contained in a competitiveness report released Monday by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.
Chris Jones, vice-president of government and public affairs for the association, says problems in the tourist industry have been aggravated by the rise in the Canadian dollar and the high cost of fuel.
“Previously when we had a weak dollar and relatively inexpensive gas, we were in a situation where those two things concealed some intrinsic weaknesses or structural deficiencies in our industries,” he said from Ottawa.
In compiling the report, the association consulted CEOs in the hotel, travel and tourist industry, as well as a range of people working in travel and tourism.
Jones said that the most important action needed is to get the structural costs of aviation down in Canada.
“The cost of flying to and within Canada is exorbitant. Let’s face it,” he said. “And it is a significant deterrent and barrier to travel by foreigners and to Canadians contemplating travel within their own country.”
He cited a series of taxes and levies and fees, such as ground leases, Crown rents charged at the airports, the travellers’ security charge, the fuel excise taxes and NavCan fees.
“We want them to be significantly reduced on an urgent basis.”
In addition, he called for more bilateral air service agreements and open skies agreements.
“We don’t get enough flights in from destinations where we would like to see more lift, more planes, more scheduled service,” he said.
The government is negotiating an agreement with Europe that would make it easier and cheaper for travellers to get to Canada, but it likely won’t happen until fall, Jones said.
In addition, the association wants the national parks system and museums across the country to become more animated and interactive to attract visitors. Jones noted that some travellers say they find Canada “a little bit dry” and boring.
Figures released last month showed that inbound, foreign travellers spent an estimated $4.1 billion in Canada in the first quarter of the year, down 1.2 per cent from the fourth quarter of last year and the lowest level in two years. A 10-year low in quarterly spending by U.S. residents contributed to this drop in spending.
Jones said border policies and more infrastructure are needed to reduce wait times and vehicle inspection times at some crossings.
Diane Ablonczy, federal secretary of state for small business and tourism, noted that the United States is going through economic turmoil and people don’t have the money for travel that they used to have.
“But nothing lasts forever,” she said from Ottawa.