Canada must work harder to attract the U.S. market

Left to right, Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Best Western International; Bryson Forbes of Forbes Marketing Consultants; Tony Pollard, president, HAC; and Brian Robertson, chief operating officer, Vision Travel Solutions.

Left to right, Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Best Western International; Bryson Forbes of Forbes Marketing Consultants; Tony Pollard, president, HAC; and Brian Robertson, chief operating officer, Vision Travel Solutions.

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TORONTO—Canada needs to work much harder to attract the crucial U.S. business and leisure travel market, said Tony Pollard, president of the Hotel Association of Canada, at the annual Best Western Business Travel Summit held Feb. 18 in downtown Toronto.

This and other insights emerged from a panel of industry experts convened for the summit, held at the Malaparte event space in TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Joining Pollard on the panel were Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president, sales and marketing, Best Western International and Brian Robertson, chief operating officer, Vision Travel Solutions. Handling moderating duties was Bryson Forbes, of Forbes Marketing Consultants.

Connecting America

During the discussion, Pollard noted that since the U.S. represents the biggest market for Canada’s travel industry, the country’s stakeholders need to make the American market a top priority in their marketing efforts. He referenced, as a step in the right direction, Connecting America, the industry sponsored proposal for a three-year, $210 million co-ordinated tourism marketing initiative led by the Canadian Tourism Council and funded half by the federal government, with provincial, local and private-sector interests making up the balance.

Pollard noted the success of the HAC’s Grassroots Campaign, whereby association members meet regularly with members of parliament to express their concerns. With some 200 meetings held annually, the campaign, he said, is helping to raise awareness, in the federal government, of the importance of the travel industry to Canada’s economy. He pointed to the recent Conservative government throne speech, which acknowledged, for the first time ever, the importance of the industry to the country.

Pollard also applauded the federal government’s plan, effective Feb. 6, to automatically consider visitors to Canada for multi-year visas valid for up to 10 years. While this is a good start, the feds still need to do much more, he said.

Ninety-cent dollar

Also up for discussion was the lower Canadian dollar, which has fallen below 90 cents relative to the U.S. dollar. Panellists predicted that the lower dollar likely won’t affect the amount of business travel, since companies still have to conduct business regardless of the dollar’s value. They acknowledged, however, that the weaker loonie would make it more costly for companies to do business on the road in Canada.

Another hot topic was technology and its growing role in the travel industry. For example, Dowling noted that use of social media is “crucial” to Best Western’s overall marketing plan.

Moreover, Dowling said that Best Western has aligned with Google Maps Business Photos to provide virtual, 360-degree interactive tours of the company’s hotels. First to be launched on the Business Photos service were Best Western properties in the U.S. sunbelt, with Canadian properties expected to be added by yearend, she said.

Pollard noted that the HAC’s 2014 Canadian Travel Intentions survey of Canadian business and leisure travellers revealed that 77 per cent of Canadian business travellers want free wireless Internet in their guestrooms and almost 25 per cent of business travellers use information gleaned from social media to make travel decisions.

Future gazing

Peering into his crystal ball, Pollard was optimistic, predicting that business travel will increase in 2014 compared to 2013 and that 2015 will be stronger than this year.