China is poised to overtake Britain as Canada’s second-largest source of foreign tourists.
The shift is expected to take place around the end of this year, leaving only the United States ahead of China when it comes to visitors entering this country.
Data from Statistics Canada show Britain still ahead of China for the first four months of 2015, but China’s numbers are growing so quickly that it will soon move up into second place. From January to April, 134,392 visitors came from Britain and 107,351 from China, but the Chinese numbers are up 20.4 per cent from 2014.
The change in rankings was expected to happen in 2016, said David Goldstein, president of Destination Canada, the Crown agency responsible for selling Canada as a travel destination.
“We talk about mature markets and emerging markets,” Mr. Goldstein said. “China has now emerged. … It is a juggernaut.”
The growing middle class in China is one factor increasing Chinese tourism to Canada. Another key factor was an agreement between the two governments signed five years ago, which gave Canada “approved destination status.” This allowed direct-to-consumer tourism advertising in China, and permitted Chinese group visits. Quicker visa processing has also helped.
The higher demand means there has also been a sharp increase in the number of flights between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the rise in the number of Chinese travellers has forced Canadian tourist operators to adapt, Mr. Goldstein said, “just as the Rockies had to get accustomed, 20 years ago, to a huge wave of Japanese tourists.”
That means making sure that appropriate food offerings are available, for example, and that menus and guidebooks are printed in Chinese.
Chinese visitors are travelling throughout Canada, Mr. Goldstein said, and not just sticking to the West Coast or the Toronto-Niagara Falls region. Air China has just announced a direct flight from Beijing to Montreal starting this fall, a sign there is sufficient demand for that route, he said.
Despite the rise of Chinese tourism, the United States is still firmly the No. 1 source of travellers coming to Canada. In the first four months of 2015, almost 2.3 million Americans came across the border and stayed at least one night, more than double the number who came from the rest of the world combined.