British Columbia

China approves Canada as travel destination

A decision by China to bestow approved destination status on Canada will open the gates for tourists from that country, pumping millions of dollars into Canada's tourism industry, experts say.

Decision could net millions for tourism industry

A decision by China to bestow approved destination status on Canada will open the gates for tourists from that country, pumping millions of dollars into Canada's tourism industry, experts say.

The decision was announced in a joint communiqué, issued by Chinese and Canadian officials on Thursday, during Prime Minister Stephen Harper's first trip to China.

"Approved destination status marks a significant moment in the history of our relations with China, indicating not only our mutual commitment to strengthening our diplomatic and commercial partnerships, but also our people-to-people ties," said Harper in statement released by his office on Thursday.

Business professor Allen Zhu said he was surprised by the announcement, given the poor state of Canada's relationship with China under Harper.

But Zhu said it will make it much easier for Chinese travellers to visit Canada on tourist visas, not just as students, or for business reasons.

The decision will also allow Canada to advertise as a tourist destination in China, said the professor, who teaches at Capilano University in North Vancouver.

"If you have [approved destination status] you are allowed to do marketing and promotion all over China. This is a huge challenge for us, but it also brings a lot of profit for our business, and especially for Vancouver," said Zhu.

In the short term, Zhu said the new status means Chinese tourists will likely come to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics in February, but in the long term, Zhu estimates a huge spike in tourism all over the country.

"I think the estimation was more than $100 million every year in tourism revenue," he said.

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell welcomed the news, saying it was something his government had been working towards for a long time.

"It should mean real economic opportunity for our tourism industry in British Columbia. It will be a real boost at a time when we come out of the 2010 Olympics," said Campbell, who heard the news while in Toronto.

Chilly relations thawing

Zhu said he first started working on getting Canada approved destination status while living in Beijing 12 years ago.

But he and his colleagues were convinced the policy would not change during Harper's current trip to China because Canada's relations with China have soured over recent years.

On Thursday in Beijing, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao reminded Harper that a Canadian prime minister had not visited in five years — a duration he called "too long."

Chinese newspapers have also adopted a mixed tone toward Harper's visit, with one touting Harper's arrival as a sign that ties between the two countries may "thaw," while another article described Harper's visit as "late" but "still welcome."

Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has called on Canada to deport accused smuggler and billionaire Lai Changxing, who has taken refuge in Vancouver for the last nine years after fleeing China.

According to the Prime Minister's Office, nearly 160,000 Chinese travellers visited Canada last year. Chinese visitors had the highest average length of stay in Canada — 28 nights — and spent more than visitors from any other country, nearly $1,650 each.

According to a Conference Board of Canada survey, approved destination status is expected to boost the yearly rate of travel to Canada from China by up to 50 per cent by 2015.