In late August, 2018, Mélanie Joly was appointed the Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie. Ten weeks later, she set off on a week-long listening tour from Niagara Falls, Ont., heading to points west and north to meet with entrepreneurs and employees in the tourism sector and get a crash course on the state of the industry – one that is remarkably robust. Tourism in Canada employs one out of every 10 people, is the biggest employer of youth workers and, in 2017, boasted revenue of $97.4-billion from domestic and international visitors. As an industry, it’s bigger than mining, forestry or agriculture, but there’s significant room for growth. Joly sat down with The Globe and Mail to discuss her new role, where she sees opportunity and how to market Canada to Canadians.
Tell me about your listening tour.
Yes, I announced my advisory committee and launched my listening tour in Niagara Falls [in mid-November] and within a week, imagine that, I went from Niagara Falls to Winnipeg, to Churchill, to Rankin Inlet, to Yellowknife, and then to Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna.
That’s … exhausting.
[Laughs.] Amazing at the same time.
From all the things that you saw and conversations that you had, what did you learn that surprised you?
When I was first appointed, when I saw the data, I thought, wow, how come this story is not told? How come Canadians don’t know how big the industry is, and what’s happening in other countries? And I thought to myself, how can we make this happen in Canada? I was seeing that the numbers of tourists were rising, which is a good thing, but then I started looking into more data and what Japan was doing and what New Zealand was doing as best practices, and I thought, we’ll we’re on to something, but we need to tell the story to Canadians.
Do we need to market Canada as a destination differently to Canadians than to foreign visitors?
This is certainly something I’m looking at. I think that Canadians are interested in getting to know their country and I think there can be really fruitful partnerships between provinces and territories and municipalities.
It can be quite expensive to travel within Canada. Are there opportunities that we’re not taking advantage of to make Canada appeal more to Canadians?
We’ve been piloting projects, specifically in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, how we can help entrepreneurs to develop winter experiences to drive more winter tourism. And we’re seeing really good numbers. For example, in a place like the Haute Gaspésie, now there’s more people during the winter than in the summer. While this region is really dependent either on fisheries or tourism, especially during the summer months, they have a beautiful provincial park, the Parc Nacional de la Gaspésie, and they’ve developed some ski trails and an entire project called Les traverses de la Gaspésie. It’s nearly 100 kilometres of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and it became a kind of phenomenon.
That’s just an example. I can give you examples from all across the country. So creating experiences, that’s one thing, supporting a lot of Indigenous tourism, because I think a lot of communities are developing bit by bit their infrastructure, that’s certainly something we’re looking at, and ultimately marketing. But I want to make sure that I can work with all my colleagues – at infrastructure, immigration, at transport – to solve some of the issues. I won’t be able to solve everything because I have only a couple months, but I want to provide that long-term vision, and what we know already is that our objective is to create $25-billion more of revenue per year and 180,000 jobs.
Are there places that you’re looking to for best practices?
We’re looking at Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The Destination Canada report [Unlocking the Power of Canada’s Visitor Economy, published December, 2018] gives examples regarding Finland, and what Macedonia has done. Certainly, what the report is saying is we could look at tourism clusters. How can we have certain regions develop their own tourism cluster and then have the federal government be a partner along with the business community?
Is there an example of a tourism cluster elsewhere?
Iceland. I was there and I did the entire tour by camping the island, and I thought to myself, Newfoundland is as beautiful as Iceland. Iceland has been able to develop their infrastructure, have good private investments, get rid of their issues in terms of access, they built capacity in terms of accommodation, they did incredible marketing and I think the sector is booming. What we’re looking at is the importance of sustainability. We don’t want to be stuck with problems of overtourism, which we’re seeing happen in Asia and Europe, but you know Canada is such a huge country that there is possibility.
Where’s one place in Canada you’ve never been that you want to see?
I’ve never been yet to Gros Morne Park in Newfoundland, I really want to go there. In Nunavut, I’ve been to Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet, but I would really like to go to Cape Dorset for the art. And you know, I’ve never been to Prince Edward County [laughs]. I’ve never been. It’s part of my travels in the next two months.