Good Evening Regional Chair Burroughs, Regional Councillors, and members of Regional staff. My name is Kithio Mwanzia and I am the Director of Policy and Government Relations of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce. I am joined here tonight by our Policy Analyst Graham Lowe. We are pleased to be here this evening presenting on an important issue for the business community – and particularly pleased to present in the new Council Chamber – designed and built by great Niagara companies.
On behalf of the Chamber, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to comment on the motion brought forward by Mayor Sharpe that focuses on enhancing the strength of Niagara’s tourism industry.
The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce is a member driven organization with over 1,500 members representing more than 45,000 employees. We are the largest business organization in Niagara and third largest Chamber in Ontario. Within the Chamber, members are able to establish both geographic and sectoral business councils to provide a targeted voice for business – and to facilitate targeted activities to support the connectivity within the network of businesses in our communities.
As a Chamber, we have been active in actively advocating for Niagara’s tourism sector. For example we have:
- Included policy modernization and innovation to enhance Niagara’s tourism capacity in our 2014 Advocacy Plan
- Released a policy paper that seeks to enhance the tourism product offering by advocating for single-sports betting;
- Successfully advocated for wine retail operations in Ontario to have the option of being open during select days mandated in the Retail Business Holidays Act
- Engaged with federal and provincial Ministers, politicians, and staff in both Ottawa and Toronto to advocate on visitor visa issue
- Successfully raised the visitor visa issue at the Ontario Economic Summit Tourism Leadership Roundtable
- Partnered with the Canadian, Ontario and Whistler Chambers of Commerce to raise this issue at all levels.
As Regional Council can see, our advocacy efforts on this issue and for the industry as a whole have been both wide ranging and far reaching. This evening we are asking you to support the motion that confirms that Regional Council is firmly behind supporting growth opportunities for Niagara’s tourism industry.
As a bit of background, the travel and tourism sector is one of Canada’s largest generators of GDP, contributing close to $80 billion to the economy annually, and accounting for more than 600,000 jobs. Visitors to Canada spend more than $15 billion annually.
Each $1 million spent by visitors to Ontario creates 14 jobs and generates $553,400 in wages and salaries in the province. On average, an overseas visitor to Ontario spends over $1,200 while in the province.
As Niagara is one of Canada’s top tourist attractions, tourism and hospitality are significant drivers for the region’s economy. The region is a pillar in the tourism industry and a prime example of Canada’s unique tourism assets that are leveraged to create economic opportunities and meaningful growth. Niagara’s tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors, when combined, comprise 35 per cent of Niagara’s economy and accounts for over 55,000 jobs.
While there are several external factors that have challenged Canada’s tourism industry, there are also significant public policy barriers that impede the industry’s ability to grow.
Through a combination of high transportation costs, steadily reduced marketing efforts and cumbersome visitor’s visa requirements, Canada has slipped from seventh place among the world’s tourism destinations to 18th place in the past decade. The tourism industry, critical in every region, is struggling with its competitiveness and needs public policies that support continued growth of the sector. For Canada’s tourism industry, visitor visas and the associated complicated application process are significant barriers to increased growth.
The Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan American Games will be Canada’s largest multi-sports Games ever hosted in terms of the number of athletes participating. An estimated 7,500 athletes are expected to take part in Toronto 2015 – three times more than the number of competitors in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Niagara’s inclusion in Toronto 2015 will have an enormous impact on the local economy. The Games are the second largest international multi-sport games after the Olympics, bringing over 1 million new visitors to the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Niagara will play host to two competition venues: the Royal Canadian Henley Rowing Centre and the Welland International Flatwater Centre.
The location of the Games will be advantageous to U.S. driving traffic, with competition venues minutes away in some cases. In addition, the Games will draw from emerging tourist markets such as Brazil and Mexico which both represent a higher median per capita tourist spending than other overseas or domestic tourists
The increase in tourist spending during the Pan Am Games alone should generate an additional $260 million in gross domestic product and add more than 3,500 jobs in the tourism sector. However, leisure and business travelers from Brazil and Mexico continue to face lengthy and cumbersome visa requirements. In order to ensure the Games reach their full economic output potential, Canada will need to be proactive in ensuring that tourists from both established and emerging markets can attend.
It is with this in mind that the Chamber recommends that Regional Council:
- Support expanding the Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) pilot for business and leisure class travellers from Brazil and Mexico by January 2015 to coincide with the travel decisions for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan American Games;
- Encourage the federal government to ease access headaches by reinvesting a portion of the $400 million it collects annually from visa administration fees into increasing Canada’s visa processing capacity from key emerging markets like Brazil, China, India, Mexico and Turkey.
- Formally communicate this to the relevant federal government ministers and all local members of parliament.
Thank you again for providing the Chamber with the opportunity to speak this evening – I look forward to your questions.