Canada welcomed a record-breaking 20.8-million tourists in 2017, the highest ever in Canadian history.
And Niagara Falls — as one of Canada’s most popular tourism destinations — also had quite the year, said Wayne Thomson, chairman of Niagara Falls Tourism.
“I think we have a similar feeling … and we’re looking forward to an even better year this year,” he said.
The preliminary data, released today by Statistics Canada, shows Canada has surpassed the previous record set in 2002, by almost a million.
“Today’s results are yet another reminder of what has been clear for a while now: Canada is back. And more and more, the world wants to come and visit,” said Bardish Chagger, federal minister of small business and tourism.
“We are excited to share our vibrant cities, beautiful natural attractions, diverse cultures and proud history with record numbers of visitors.”
Chagger said this is “great news” for the country’s tourism sector and the more than 1.8-million jobs that depend on it.
“We are only getting started, too,” he said.
“Our government is investing in Canada’s tourism sector and we have a comprehensive plan to increase tourism even further. As we celebrate the Canada-China year of tourism this year, I am certain that the record we set in 2017 is just the beginning of the amazing news for this vital sector.”
Thomson said breaking through in China has led to a significant increase in Chinese visitation, particularly to Canada and Niagara Falls, which is “spectacular and leading the way.”
He said one of the top destination spots for travellers from China is Niagara Falls.
Thomson said it’s important for Niagara Falls to continue its strong marketing efforts, especially through social media, to maintain the current success.
He said it’s also important to have Niagara Falls regularly in the spotlight, such as annual televised New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Thomson said Niagara Falls — and Niagara as a whole — now has more to offer than ever, leading to a year-round calendar of things to do.
He said in the past, tourism in Niagara Falls used to be referred to as “the magic 100 days.”
“People used to come May 24th and everybody would leave on Labour Day and everybody was laid off, no jobs — it was a disaster back then. We’ve managed to turn it around to be a year-round, busy (destination) in so many different areas that it caters to everybody.”
Anthony Annunziata, president of the Tourism Partnership of Niagara, said they don’t have final numbers for all of Niagara for 2017, but that the positive numbers nationwide have a lot to do with what “Niagara was able to generate” last year.
“Niagara arguably, and in terms of the statistics, is the No. 1 leisure destination in the country and we continue to pace the country when it comes to growth and we continue to be a key feature when it comes to any of the Destination Canada strategies and Destination Ontario strategies in terms of driving visitation to Canada,” he said.
Annunziata said there’s “a lot of great product” in Niagara, but in addition to that, the region “prides itself on shareable experiences.”
“Families and people with significant others and friends who visit this jurisdiction find that they create memories and those memories, they like to quantity, they like to send home, they like to capture with photography and it’s those shareable memories that I think really creates a lens to some of the significance of why Niagara is so successful,” he said.
“It’s the experiences, not just with the falls … whether it’s food moments, wine moments, travelling, walking, biking, hiking, zipping — events that you can do all throughout Niagara and there’s no shortage of sophisticated product that serves those markets.”
Ben Cowan-Dewar, chairperson of Destination Canada’s board of directors, described the Statistics Canada figures as “fantastic.”
“Working with industry partners across the country has given us a competitive edge and positioned Canada as top of mind for travellers from all over the world.”
Since the previous peak year in 2002, the composition of tourists to Canada has changed significantly.
Overnight arrivals to Canada from countries other than the United States reached an all-time high of more than 31 per cent in 2017, up from 19 per cent in 2002.
Overseas tourists typically stay in Canada longer and also spend more, benefitting tourism businesses across Canada and the Canadian economy.
The federal government has implemented visa changes for priority markets and opened seven new visa application centres in China, Canada’s third largest source market.
New flight routes and increased service to Canadian airports have flight capacity soaring by seven per cent from 2016 to the highest level ever.