Illusive tiger, mythical dragon 

Approved destination status and the realities of Chinese tourism.
Local councillor Ralph Forsyth wades in.

By Ralph Forsyth

According to a recent Canadian Press article the Chinese government is not very happy with Canada: “China is threatening to use its considerable economic strength to penalize Canada following the Harper government's decision to bestow honorary Canadian citizenship on the Dalai Lama.”

Honouring dissidents is nothing new for Canadians. South African leader (and former prisoner and dissident) Nelson Mandela has also received honorary Canadian citizenship. What concerns some Canadians about the Chinese “threat” is the fact that after the United States, China is Canada's largest trading partner.

Amplifying the distress, is the desire of the Canadian tourism Commission to acquire Approved Destination Status. ADS enables select Chinese citizens to travel for pleasure to countries with this status. Every country wishing to acquire ADS must negotiate individually with the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) in order to be granted ADS. Simply put ADS is a must have if Canada hopes to attract more Chinese tourists.

Pulling the tiger’s tail might not be the wisest move if you want more Chinese visits, and many believe that Chinese tourism is the great panacea that will cure all our tourism-related problems. But recent evidence suggests that Chinese tourists spend the majority of their tourism dollars on gambling and high fashion shopping, and prefer discount hotels. According to Chinese tourism consultancy CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets special report, “Almost 70 per cent of their budget is allotted to this (shopping) activity. And they choose to finance this by cutting down on accommodation expenditure.”

If we dig a little deeper the question of why should we care about ADS begs to be asked. Chinese tourism as the next great revenue generator may be as big a myth as the existence of dragons.

The Myth of ADS

Early in 2006 Canadian officials were boasting about our country’s imminent ADS status in negotiations with China, but so far there has been no formal announcement. Negotiations are still ongoing, however, there is no date in sight for such an agreement.

It’s understandable that Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) officials might be excited and jump the gun on an announcement; ADS could be a big step forward for any country wishing to tap into a fast-growing Chinese outbound tourism market that boasts some impressive statistics. There are 200 million Chinese today that are able to travel overseas. In 2005 outbound tourist numbers reached more than 31 million and could reach 100 million by 2020. There are nearly 700 licensed outbound travel agencies in China out of more than 10,000 agents. And according to the CTC, Chinese visitor numbers will grow by 25-28 per cent every year after a country receives ADS. Canada’s present annual growth is about 15 per cent.

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