More tourists, more wealth: An appeal to the Government of Canada

Martin Roy, Executive Director, Festivals and Major Events (FAME) and Regroupement des événements majeurs internationaux (RÉMI)*

It’s happening: a very hopeful tourism season is starting now in Canada with Tourism Week from May 28 to June 3 and the first major events and festivals being rolled out everywhere in this year of Canada’s 150th Confederation and Montreal’s 375th anniversaries.

For a long time, the stars have not been as propitious for our destination – which has topped the New York Times and Lonely Planet’s annual list – to attract more international tourists than ever. If the federal government has acted resolutely in favour of the industry since 2015, it can and must do more to seize the largest share of the market, a “pie” that is literally exploding before our eyes globally and in which we should have the largest possible share.

Each year, there are more than a billion international tourists who travel the world in search of a change of scenery and new experiences. The World Tourism Organization predicts that this will increase to 1.8 billion in 2030, which represents an average annual growth of 3.3 %. In 2016, Canada welcomed nearly 20 million foreign visitors, the highest level in the past 14 years, and this could make it climb a few rungs among the top 20 international destinations when it did not do better than ranking 18th in 2015.

This increase is certainly the result of favourable circumstances and also the intervention of the government of Canada, which has stopped requiring visas from certain countries and reinvested in Destination Canada so that the organization can work on convincing more Americans to visit. From our point of view, this effort focusing on marketing and access must be combined with an effort to develop the tourism offering, the “product” that we offer to tourists.

On the occasion of the launch of the festival and events season, Festivals and Major Events (FAME) would like to ask the federal government to take a step further in promoting the arrival of international tourists and generating benefits by creating a program for the growth of these major events, such as the Ottawa Bluesfest, the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Just For Laugh Festival, Vancouver International Jazz Festival and the Festival d’été de Québec, which are held in most of the provinces. To this end, they suggest perpetuating a part of the 150th anniversary budget allocation.

In addition to having a positive social and cultural impact, festivals and events act as very appealing products for the destination by concretizing vague travel intentions to Canada into not-to-be-missed dates. In 2009, we estimated that a group of 15 major events would alone generate more than a billion dollars of spending and $ 650 million in GDP for the country. It has also been established since then that each dollar invested by the governments in festivals pays off two and a half times in terms of tax revenues and incidental taxes. Many festivals and events are attended by more than 10% of festivalgoers from outside the country. The example of Osheaga, in which more than two-thirds of participants come from outside of Quebec, is persuasive enough to be reproduced across Canada.

Elsewhere, various jurisdictions have understood the importance of investing in festivals and events, which are increasingly becoming worldwide social phenomena as well as significant tourism opportunities, as evidenced by the success of Coachella in California, Tomorrowland in Belgium, and SXSW in Texas. In the last case, the state alone invests nearly $ 40 million in a fund for events while the City of Austin contributes more than $ 12 million.

Here, Quebec and Ontario recently announced reinvestments, each increasing their program budgets to more than $ 20 million, but since the end of the Marquee Tourism Events Program in 2010, the federal government’s participation is still awaited. Through Canadian Heritage and economic development agencies, Canada indirectly supports up to 4 % of a sector that is proportionally funded to a greater degree by the French, Swedish and Irish governments, to name just a few. In the United Kingdom, the public revenue share in British Arts Festival Association members is as high as 28 %.

To enable Canadian festivals and events to be more attractive and competitive on the international scene and offer a higher quality “product” and enhanced experience to their client base, FAME asks the government to intervene conscientiously in the context where the Canadian Council of Tourism Ministers is already evaluating the possibility of collaborating with this significant, but fragile industry.

* FAME represents 22 festivals and major events across Canada while RÉMI is active in Québec with 27 members