China is keeping group tour restrictions on Canada. What will the impact be? – National

China’s recent decision to keep group tour travel restrictions on Canada as it loosens pandemic-era measures is a blow to Canadian tourism, industry groups say.

Last week, China ended COVID-19 restrictions on group tours for an additional 78 countries, including the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and most European nations.

But Canada was notably absent from the approved travel destinations.

This will have a “continued impact” on the country’s tourism revenue because Chinese visitors spend a long time in Canada when they visit and spend about $1,300 a day, said Beth Potter, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, in an interview with Global News.

“Prior to the pandemic, China was our fastest growing market of inbound visits,” Potter said, adding that Chinese visitors would annually pump in about $2 billion into the country.

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“As our industry tries to get back to business as normal, this is just a protracted impact on our ability to do that.”

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Before the travel restrictions were imposed, more than 708,000 Chinese tourists came to Canada in 2019, according to data from Destination Canada, making Chinese tourists the biggest foreign spenders and second largest long-haul market.

There are no restrictions on individual Chinese travelers, but tourists are still barred from organized group visits to Canada.

Without any group packages allowed, it makes it even harder for solo travelers to pay for a visit, says Potter.

The continued restrictions are already impacting the Canadian tourism industry because there aren’t as many flights as there previously were, says one travel expert.

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“It’s tough on the Canadian tourism industry because second to the US, China has the biggest spend here,” travel consultant Claire Newell told Global News.

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British Columbia is a big tourist destination for Chinese visitors coming to Canada.

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Royce Chwin, president and CEO of Destination Vancouver, said the Chinese market is “critical to Vancouver’s tourism economy” and called Beijing’s decision “disappointing.”

“It will have some impact for tourism for sure,” he said in an interview with Global News.

“At the height of the Chinese market coming to Vancouver we had over 60 flights a week. “We’re now down to only two carriers operating out of Vancouver, so in the immediate term there is an impact, it could have more of an impact over the longer term,” Chwin added.

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Meanwhile, Alberta said it was focusing its international marketing efforts on other markets, such as the US, the UK, France, Germany, and Japan.

“We are continuously monitoring travel trends and will adjust our strategy in response to shifts in the global landscape,” said Tannis Gaffney, senior vice president and chief marketing officer with Travel Alberta, in an emailed statement.

Even so, the federal government says that by the end of last year, 93 per cent of tourism businesses in the country were back at their 2019 levels.

“The government will continue to work with the tourism industry, provincial and territorial counter parts, and Indigenous tourism partners to see the tourism industry thrive,” said Farrah-Lilia Kerkadi, the press secretary of the tourism minister, in an emailed statement to Global News.

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa, when asked by Global News about the reasoning behind leaving Canada off the list, said: “Lately, The Canadian side has repeatedly hyped up the so-called ‘Chinese interference,’ and rampant and discriminatory anti-Asian acts and words are rising significantly in Canada.”

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“The Chinese government attaches great importance to protecting the safety and legitimate rights of overseas Chinese citizens and wishes they could travel in a safe and friendly environment,” the embassy’s press and public affairs office said in an emailed response on Thursday.

This comes as relations between the two countries have soured following reports of allegations of Chinese interference in Canadian politics.

Global News and the Globe and Mail have reported on allegations of foreign interference from Beijing in Canada’s 2019 and 2021 elections.

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China has been gradually lifting restrictions on travel, and its announcement on August 10 marked the third batch of countries to be reinstated as approved destinations for group tours.

The first batch, which included Thailand and Russia, was approved in January. In March, 40 more countries were added to the list, including France and Brazil.

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China has never explained its staggered approach to approvals but analysts have noted that the countries taking time to gain approval have had more political and/or trade tension with the world’s second-largest economy.

A government official speaking on background said Ottawa is continuing to work towards getting the restrictions lifted, but didn’t offer a timeline.

“People-to-people ties are an important pillar in the Canada-China relationship,” said Kerkadi.

“Tourism and cultural exchanges help promote greater mutual understanding and build lasting relationships.”

— With files from Global News’ Simon Little, Reuters and The Canadian Press