The Canadian-Chinese Year of Tourism has been kicked off in the last few months with a flurry of announcements by Canadian destination marketing organizations (DMOs) announcing new efforts to promote Chinese tourism and partnerships with Chinese companies. While Canada is an important destination for Chinese travel in and of itself, it’s also a vital market for American stakeholders to keep an eye on, given some of the key similarities between Canada and the United States as tourist destinations. Seeing how some of these efforts will play out throughout the year and the statistics for spending and visitation that will likely be released next year can serve as a valuable means of assessing ways forward for American and even European destinations.

The Canadian-Chinese Year of Tourism will serve as a valuable test ground for new DMO marketing efforts

Tourism Toronto is one of Canada’s DMOs that’s leading the charge. The DMO announced earlier this month that two of the city’s biggest attractions, CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, will be accepting both WeChat Pay and Alipay. While not a “game changer” for the overall development of Toronto as a Chinese travel destination in and of itself, such efforts could go a long way in promoting wider adoption of Chinese mobile payments platforms within the city. Ideally, this would drive Chinese tourist spending, as well as emphasizing to visitors that Toronto is ready and able to welcome Chinese travelers.

It was also just announced that Tourism Toronto organized a “Responsible Travel” summit with China Southern Airlines and Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency (OTA). The purpose of the summit was to “encourage travelers to find new ways to travel through providing them with reusable water cups, slippers, and other environmentally friendly travel products.” While the summit will not drive revenue or visitation to Toronto, it is a reflection of the importance of Toronto as an influential global destination, capable of creating and maintaining partnerships with major players in the China travel market.

Canada’s DMOs have stepped up partnership efforts with major Chinese companies like Tencent, Ctrip, and China Southern

Of course, this was not Toronto’s only major firm partnership. Last year Toronto won the bid to host Amway China’s 2020 leadership seminar, and Tourism Toronto expects the event to bring in 10,000 visitors and CA$80 million (US$62 million). While the 2020 Amway conference is not directly related to the Canadian-Chinese Year of Tourism, it nonetheless underscores how Toronto is benefiting from the timing of the tourism year to drive business tourism, likely more valuable on a per capita basis than leisure travel, and business relationships.

The number of Chinese tourists that visited Toronto in 2017 was approximately 319,000.

While Toronto is likely the most important destination for Chinese travelers in Canada, it’s certainly not the only city making interesting marketing and partnership efforts. Ottawa, Canada’s capital, located in Ontario Province along with Toronto, will be instituting a new incentives plan with operators to drive the number of visitors coming to Ottawa, numbered at 41,000 last year. Tour operators that register with the program and attract more room bookings than last year will receive a financial bonus for their efforts. Newly established operators will receive a bonus for any bookings.

Ottawa attracted around 41,000 Chinese visitors last year and is relatively unknown as a tourist destination. However, incentivizing tour operators to market the city on behalf of the city’s DMO, Ottawa Tourism, is a creative approach and it will be interesting to see to what extent the new incentives plan will drive tourism this year.

British Columbia, along with its largest city Vancouver, is yet another example of a Canadian destination making significant efforts to drive Chinese tourism. The province is advantaged by its large population of Chinese residents, particularly in Vancouver city proper and its greater metropolitan area. This encourages substantial visitor traffic from China, with family and friends coming to visit the city.

Vancouver in particular stands to benefit from its large number of Chinese residents

Nonetheless, the city sill aims to attract more traditional leisure travelers. One of the highest-profile moves was the establishment of a partnership between British Columbia and Tencent to promote British Columbia as a destination on WeChat. The deal was struck during British Columbia Premier John Horgan’s visit to Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China.

Tourism Vancouver, the city’s DMO, also brought in Chinese actor Guo Tao to promote the city by having the actor, and his children, tour the city and post videos of their journey online. Guo Tao, known for films such as Million Dollar Crocodile and Crazy Stone. The success of KOL marketing efforts can be difficult to gauge and are certainly not guaranteed successes. However, the timing of the campaign with the tourism year may prove advantageous.