Ottawa Tourism is pressing pause on new efforts to attract and cater to Chinese tourists in light of strained relations between the Asian country and Canada.
A spokesperson for Ottawa Tourism said in an email to OBJ this week that the local tourism agency has followed the lead of its national counterpart, Destination Canada, and “temporarily paused new marketing efforts in China” last month. It’s too soon to say whether this interruption had an effect on the volume of Chinese travellers visiting Ottawa in December.
The spokesperson went on to say that pauses have happened in the past, sometimes for a short duration, and that both Destination Canada and Ottawa Tourism continue to monitor the situation.
Diplomatic tensions continued to escalate this week as the Chinese foreign ministry's consular affairs office published a notice Tuesday saying that Canada has recently “arbitrarily detained” a Chinese national – a reference to Canada's arrest of Chinese telecommunications executive Meng Wanzhou.
It urged Chinese citizens to consider their personal circumstances and “fully assess the risks of going to Canada for tourism.”
The notice mirrored Canada's revision of its own travel advisory Monday that warned of the “risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws” in China. Since the arrest of Wanzhou, several Canadians have been detained in China, though it’s not explicitly clear whether the detentions are connected. The latest case capturing Canada’s attention is that of a B.C. man facing a death sentence after a Chinese court convicted him of drug smuggling.
Global Affairs says on its website that Canadians are still advised to “exercise a high degree of caution” when visiting China – which is unchanged – but it now explains the warning is “due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.” It also now warns of the death penalty, as well as penalties for drug-related offences.
Canada made a concerted effort to attract more Chinese tourists last year to take economic advantage of the growing middle class in the People's Republic. The initiative appeared to bear some fruit with travel in the first 10 months of 2018 exceeding the number of Chinese tourists during the same period in 2017. Statistics Canada figures show more than 663,000 Chinese travellers visited Canada between January and October, compared with more than 620,000 between the same period in 2017.
Ottawa Tourism, too, launched its own initiatives last year to court Chinese tourists. In May the organization launched an incentive program for Chinese tour operators that bring increased traffic to the National Capital Region. This past summer Ottawa Tourism sent a delegation to China aimed at building relationships with the nation’s travel agencies and organizers.
The tourism agency has also been ensuring Ottawa-based companies are “China-ready” – able to cater to the incoming Chinese tourists. One example of this has been leveraging technology from Ottawa’s Motion Pay, which develops point-of-sale devices for businesses to accept mobile payment services common in China.
– With files from Canadian Press