Reclaiming Canada’s key service export: Tourism

Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia Darlene Grant Fiander

Tourism is an increasingly dynamic sector of the global economy; pre-2019 tourism was a $1.4 trillion industry generating over 9% of the world’s GDP, growing 4% annually, and an even faster pace – 13% – in developing countries. The rapid expansion of middle-class consumer populations in Asia and Latin America was driving new market demand throughout the world. Tourism was the fastest growing economic sector in terms of job creation and has been pivotal in diversifying economies around the world; enabling the creation of wealth and jobs.

The impact of COVID-19 on the global tourism economy has been seismic. Tourism is at the center of economic activity supporting business travel, investment and leisure pursuits. When people’s ability to travel is impacted, disposable income is affected and the global economy shuts down tourism infrastructure, with both product and people made vulnerable. A strong tourism economy supports the cultural, social and environmental health of communities and is a catalyst for economic spread with the highest multiplier effect in the economy. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, for every $1 invested another $3.2 is generated on main streets.

In 2019, tourism added $105 billion to Canada’s economy, providing a larger economic contribution than the automotive sector, as well as the agriculture and forestry sectors combined. The visitor economy accounted for 2.9% of Canada’s GDP last year pre-COVID and as Canada’s largest service export, it also contributed $22.1 billion in export revenue. In February 2019, tourism employed 2.1 million workers in a variety of job types – from entry-level to executive and entrepreneurial. These were the largest reported numbers to-date, published just before the pandemic. Tourism in Canada lost 880,000 jobs within the first 10 weeks and is still down significantly – approximately 20% across the sector. One in every 11 jobs in Canada is directly linked to the tourism industry. We need to rebuild the tourism workforce in the country.

While Canada has one of the highest travel deficits, a post-COVID environment provides a tremendous opportunity to rebuild by increasing the number of Canadians traveling in Canada. COVID-19 has altered people’s perceptions and priorities. If we do not take advantage of this extraordinary time to reimagine the tourism industry, we will have missed what will no doubt be one of the greatest opportunities to reconsider our approach to economic growth centered on a strong tourism economy. As we begin the rebuild there is an incredible opportunity to redefine Canada’s visitor economy and exceed economic targets, if we are prepared to flip our current approach to growth upside down and look at tourism in a more holistic and integrated way. Tourism does not just happen; global destinations that have sustainable growth understand the interconnectivity between tourism and the economic and social success of communities.

One of the key challenges Canada’s Tourism Sector faces is rebuilding the workforce. As labour challenges force change for all sectors of the Canadian economy, Canada’s tourism industry has the opportunity to redefine and reposition work in the tourism industry. It has been interesting to take part in conversations that, for the most part, have focused on the very tactical solutions such as addressing wages, schedules, etc. That the industry will improve its basic operating human resource practices has to be a given, as sectors across the economy raise wages and improve work benefits. If we focus on those immediate things only, we will have missed a generational opportunity to address the structural challenges that have plagued the tourism sector.

These structural changes impacting tourism are part of a larger workforce context affecting all sectors. The industry is undergoing a great deal of change during a highly disruptive period, and the emergent business models also mean there are changing demands on the number and types of workers and the skills needed.

There are growing examples across the globe of best practices for employers in retaining current workers and innovative recruitment strategies, but what happens when that new employee is landed? As an Industry, how are we viewed as an employer of choice? Why is the service economy valued differently in many European countries? How does the education system in those countries support its service economies and frame the brand of work in tourism

As a business you can control your brand and your culture. You can create places where people feel connected and proud. As an industry we need to consider the integration of our education system and look at models that support streaming students into trades and the service economy; we need to celebrate the role tourism plays in the economy; 80% of tourism businesses are entrepreneurs and live in every Canadian community and one in three Canadians start their working life in a tourism job.

Addressing the shortfall in the supply of workers, the growing skills mismatch, and barriers to employment is a complex undertaking that requires a sustained all-of-sector approach—one that is dynamic and responsive to ongoing market needs and to economic, social, and political drivers. The challenges we face did not begin with the pandemic, but COVID-19 has heightened and amplified systemic challenges of the tourism sector. It is time to take a comprehensive view of tourism and its impact on the social, cultural and economic health of our communities as we rebuild in a post-COVID era.

As we reclaim our position as Canada’s key service export, we need to believe that substantial disruption also provides substantial opportunity, this is what the pandemic experience has provided – it is simply time to do business differently.

Darlene Grant Fiander is President of the Tourism Industry Association of Nova
Scotia (TIANS), & Chair of Tourism HR Canada, www.tians.org.

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