Tourism in the economy

Tourism’s direct contribution to Canada’s GDP was CAD 38.8 billion in 2016, an increase of 5.1% over 2015. Overall, tourism continues to represent approximately 2% of GDP. One in 10 jobs (1.8 million) were associated with tourism industries in 2015, with 721 600 jobs directly supported by tourism in 2016. Canada’s domestic tourism represented 78% of tourism revenues in 2016.

Growth in international arrivals to Canada has been very strong in recent years. In 2016, Canada welcomed nearly 20 million overnight visitors, up 11.1% on 2015 which was itself already a strong year. 2016 was the second-best year on record.

Canada’s largest international market is the United States, with 13.9 million overnight visitors in 2016, an increase of 9.7% on the previous year. Canada posted strong growth from a number of key overseas markets, including the United Kingdom (up 16.5% to 833 300); China (up 23.6% to 610 100) and France (up 9% to 545 800). Amongst countries with a smaller share of the inbound market, South Korea and Mexico exhibited particularly strong growth (up 29.6% and 24% respectively).

Meetings, conventions and incentive travel remains steady, attracting close to 2 million visitors each year, with total spending of approximately CAD 1.7 billion.

Tourism governance and funding

In Canada, the Federal Government, the ten provincial governments, the three territorial governments and numerous municipalities all play a role in promoting tourism.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) is the federal department whose mission is to foster a growing, competitive, knowledge-based Canadian economy. Within ISED, the Minister of Small Business and Tourism has the lead responsibility for the tourism sector.

ISED is responsible for leading coordination among federal departments to support a whole-of-a government approach to the implementation of Canada’s New Tourism Vision. It does this through the Canada’s New Tourism Vision Steering Committee which brings together eighteen federal departments and agencies directly implicated in Canada’s New Tourism Vision. Participating federal organisations include: Parks Canada, which is responsible for national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas; Canada’s six regional development agencies, which support many local tourism-related investment initiatives; and Destination Canada, the national tourism marketing organisation.

Destination Canada operates as a Canadian Crown corporation wholly owned by the Government of Canada. Destination Canada undertakes initiatives to market Canada. It does this in conjunction with its partners, which include provincial, territorial and regional destination marketing organisations. The Government of Canada stabilized Destination Canada annual funding to CAD 95.5 million.

Canada: Organisational chart of tourism bodies

Source: OECD, adapted from Innovation, Science and Economic Development, 2018.

Through multiple initiatives, Destination Canada promotes Canada as a premier destination and showcases the country’s most unique attributes. Northern and rural Canada, for instance, remain largely undiscovered by foreign tourists. Destination Canada has partnered with destination marketing organisations, such as Tourism Yukon, to promote this undiscovered frontier. Destination Canada has developed Signature Experiences in all three Territories of Canada’s North, (complementing those throughout the rest of the country). These help local tour operators to showcase unique Northern adventures, such as Arctic safaris, cruises and excursions to view the Aurora Borealis. Destination Canada also promotes tourism in Canadian rural areas through its suite of Signature Experiences. For example, in Alberta, tourists are invited to take part to a cattle drive at a ranch and sleep in an authentic western bunkhouse.

Provincial and Territorial governments also play an active role in the development and promotion of tourism at the sub-national level in every part of the country. Ministers responsible for tourism from each jurisdiction meet as the Canadian Council of Tourism Ministers on an annual basis to discuss trends and issues of concern to the Canadian tourism sector and work together to seek solutions.

Statistics Canada is the national statistical agency responsible for the collection and analysis of tourism-related statistics. Statistics are compiled on a number of tourism industries, such as air, boat, rail, bus and taxi transportation; traveller accommodation; food services and drinking establishments; amusement and recreation, and travel arrangement services. Statistics Canada is re-developing its two core national tourism surveys to create the National Travel Survey and the Visitor Travel Survey, both operative from 2018. Statistics Canada also compiles data on all international travellers cleared for entry into Canada, and generates two major products for the macroeconomic evaluation of tourism: the National Tourism Satellite Account and the National Tourism Indicators.

Tourism policies and programmes

On May 11, 2017, the Minister of Small Business and Tourism announced Canada’s New Tourism Vision, a strategic, whole-of-government approach coordinating action across 18 federal departments and agencies to help grow Canada’s tourism sector and increase international visitation. The Vision is guided by three overarching goals:

  • Grow international visitation to Canada by 30 % by 2021,

  • Double visitation from China by 2021,

  • Position Canada to compete for a top-ten ranking as an international destination, by 2025.

In order to achieve these goals, the Vision sets out a detailed Action Plan that identifies 20 action items focused around three pillars: investments in stronger and more sustained marketing, in measures to facilitate easier access (i.e. travelling to and within the country), and in tourism product development (i.e. support for Canadian tourism businesses and operators as they work to upgrade their offerings with new, innovative products and services).

Investment to support Canada’s New Tourism Vision

On a federal level, Canada’s New Tourism Vision and its 20-point action plan were supported by major new investments announced in the 2017 federal Budget. To attract more international visitors to Canada, Budget 2017 stabilised annual funding for Destination Canada, Canada’s national tourism marketing organisation at CAD 95.5 million, starting in 2018-19. Stabilised funding will allow Destination Canada to continue its strong collaboration with industry partners to maximise the impacts of its marketing campaigns to draw in more tourists from abroad and increase economic activity.

To complement Destination Canada’s activities, Budget 2017 also provides CAD 8.6 million over four years, starting in 2017-18, to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to support the development of Canada’s unique and authentic Indigenous tourism industry.

Finally, to ensure that tourism operators and governments make the most of their efforts and investments, Budget 2017 provides CAD 13.6 million over five years, starting in 2017-18, and CAD 2.7 million per year thereafter, to Statistics Canada to broaden tourism data collection.

The Government of Canada also works very actively with provincial and territorial colleagues to grow and increase the competitiveness of Canada’s tourism sector. In 2016, the Canadian Council of Tourism Ministers announced the Nunavut Declaration, which commits to federal-provincial-territorial collaboration, and aims to strengthen competiveness, grow Canada’s tourism offerings, and support a statistical system that meets the information needs of decision-makers (Box 1.2).

Statistical profile

Table 1. Canada: Domestic, inbound and outbound tourism

Table 2. Canada: Enterprises and employment in tourism

Table 3. Canada: Internal tourism consumption
Million CAD