By Lynn Douglass

When a trade delegation from Nova Scotia traveled to China to talk up the province’s lobsters, coastline, and exports, they knew, of course, to bring beautiful photographs of home. But they weren’t prepared for which images would captivate their audience. With urban skies blanketed in smog, their Chinese hosts from city centers thrilled at spectacular views of the night sky. Tourism Nova Scotia CEO Michele Saran noted, “The photos we have of people standing on the beach at night in Yarmouth and gazing at the stars held them spellbound.”

Canada’s third-largest source of visitors last year was from China, and Nova Scotia’s second-biggest trading partner, after the United States, was China, according to Saran. With that in mind, the northeastern province has budgeted $500,000 over two years to expand its presence in China. By partnering with Beijing marketing company SinoMedia, Tourism Nova Scotia plans to tap the ballooning Chinese travel market.

Tourism Nova Scotia is looking to China to help increase its tourism revenue to $4 billion by 2024

“Our focus on the China market is strategic,” says Saran. “We know Chinese travelers are big spenders and after traveling such a long distance, they tend to stay longer and spend more.” Tourism Nova Scotia is counting on the relatively high spending per capita of Chinese tourists in North America, plus an increase in Chinese visitors, to help Nova Scotia’s tourism industry’s revenue jump to $4 billion by 2024 from its current value of $2.7 billion.

But how does a province so small, with a population sitting at around 950,000, attract tourists from a country so big?

“Just as Canadians and Americans couldn’t rhyme off the provinces of China, we can’t expect the Chinese to be familiar with our province which has not yet been widely marketed in that country,” said Saran. First, the tourism authority will target areas such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou where tour operators are already packaging Canadian tourism products.

One resource the province can leverage in marketing in China is its abundant and high-quality seafood

Second, it will capitalize on its current trading relationship with China—lobster, traditionally served at weddings in China, is a keenly sought luxury. Moreover, Canada is seen likely to win a greater share of the Chinese market given the potential Sino-American trade war, which boosts tariffs on U.S. lobsters.

“China is a significant trading partner for Nova Scotia and an important part of our economic strategy,” said Premier Stephen McNeil in a statement. “Having a strong presence in this growth market for business and tourism will help attract more visitors to experience our accessible coast, amazing seafood, and rich culture.”

Earlier this year, the tourism group released a tip sheet on “How to Get Your Business Ready for the Chinese Market.” The guide features advice including: have easy access to WiFi, highlight the safety and security of your business, and include a tea kettle and slippers in the hotel room.

Nova Scotia has already made significant steps to become fully “China-ready”

To Chinese millennials, Tourism Nova Scotia will market new experiences. For example, “We know that the Chinese visitors love lobster and our pristine coastline, therefore we will speak about our ‘Dining on the Ocean Floor’ experience,” said Saran. While the tide is out, diners eat locally sourced food on the “ocean floor.” By the end of the evening, the spot where the diners began their meal is 50 feet under water.

Just how ready is the small coastal province for the Chinese influx? One Halifax tour operator, Ambassatours, now offers Mandarin-speaking staff. Additionally, some businesses now accept payments widely used in China like Alipay and UnionPay. In addition, Tourism Nova Scotia has established “trade readiness” training for its operators on “the needs and wants” of the Chinese market.

So far, there are essentially no direct flights from China to Nova Scotia—the closest airports to service the route are in Montreal and Toronto. There is a direct flight, however, between Beijing and Halifax, but it’s only for the lobster industry, at least for now.