Tourism industry pushing 'exotic' Canada

The Canadian Tourism Commission has launched a new program that stresses unique experiences in the country.

A tundra buggy ride to photograph polar bears in northern Manitoba. Inching across a swinging suspension bridge over a ravine in the Columbia Mountains. Tidal bore rafting on Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie River.

Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie River tidal bore rafting over natural sand rapids in bores up to three metres high. (

They're prime examples of what Canada's tourism sector is hoping to use to attract big-spending international visitors who are looking for something out of the ordinary on their next vacation.

"Travellers spent $1 trillion on tourism globally in 2010 — that's $3 billion dollars a day or $2 million a minute. We want more than our fair share of that revenue," says Michele McKenzie, the president and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission.

McKenzie announced the launch of "Signature Experiences Collection" at a tourism conference in Banff, Alta., last week.

It's a compilation of 48 Canadian tourism enterprises from coast to coast to coast. It will be marketed in 11 countries and initially be rolled out in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Australia.

"Tourism is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world and it's become a very high stakes game and one in which countries are competing to win and Canada is competing to win," McKenzie said.

"Winning countries are those that offer exotic experiences, a strong tourism brand, great infrastructure and effective collaboration between government and tourism partners."

Canada's Rocky Mountains, skiing and history aren't enough to attract the international visitors flush with cash, although some tried and true events such as the Calgary Stampede, ice wine tours, Niagara Falls in Ontario and winery tours in British Columbia still make the grade.

At the Ice Hotel in Quebec City, the room temperatures are between -3 C and -5 C, but staff make sure guests have plenty of warm blankets. (
Also on the list are the Grand Festival of Winter and the Ice Hotel in Quebec; iceberg viewing in Newfoundland and Labrador; the Plain of the Six Glaciers Tea House Ride in Alberta; dogsled adventures in the Northwest Territories, and a cowboy adventure in Saskatchewan.

"Simply having a positive image as a country does not translate into a compelling reason to visit," said McKenzie.

"Our challenge was to inspire our customers with a Canada that offered more than spectacular scenery but to offer tourism experiences that rival those of even our most exotic competitors."

The recession has taken a toll on the travel sector, said Kevin Stanton, owner and operator of Brewster Adventures in Banff. He said the program is needed to win international markets.

The concept appears to be working.

"We sent some guests out on an overnight trip and halfway through their trip, a wild horse colt decided to join the people.

"That horse went all the way to their overnight camp and came back," he said. "Those international people will never forget that. It was an experience of a lifetime for them."

The initiative should encourage the rest of the world to visit Canada, said Maxime Bernier, minister of state for small business and tourism.

Bernier admitted to having visited only one of the 48 experiences in the campaign — the Ice Hotel in Quebec City.

Canada has benefited from the publicity surrounding the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and more recently the visit by Prince William and Kate, he said.

"It's something very special and also it was free all across the world in different markets like in the United Kingdom," said Bernier. Experiences like that can also bring other international travellers here."

An official with the Calgary Stampede estimates that international visitors have dropped off five to 10 per cent the past couple of years, but senses that things are beginning to turn around.

Lindsay Galloway said the publicity that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge gave to the Stampede, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2012, is priceless.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge donned cowboy hats during their visit to the Calgary Stampede earlier this month. (CBC)
Prince William and his bride, Kate, wore western garb, including the famous white cowboy hats, while riding a stagecoach. They also took part in the Stampede parade.

"The coverage we're receiving around the world is unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. It's great for the Stampede, it's great for Alberta and the country," he said.

"Them wearing cowboy hats is a lasting image around the world that will just serve our city so well."