Despite another year of global twists and turns that have impacted the travel market—from the Asian tsunami and a very active hurricane season to record-high gas prices—travel industry leaders forecasted continued resilience at a recent expert roundtable. Executives from Best Western International, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA); the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) and the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) met in Toronto to discuss how the current travel boom is affecting the industry, as well as to offer their predictions on what will be the hottest travel trends in 2006.
Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of marketing for Best Western, said this year’s series of unexpected events, such as the devastating storms along the Gulf Coast and high gas prices, did not cripple the industry within Canada or the United States.
Looking forward, 2006 is expected to be yet another profitable year for the lodging company, which will celebrate its 60th Anniversary of providing quality customer care and service at its 2,400 North American properties.
“Best Western had dozens of hotels affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita “which responded to the challenge by opening their doors to emergency workers, local authorities and displaced residents,” said Dowling.
“It is this dedication to community, combined with pride in the Best Western brand, which has served our customers well for six decades, and continues to drive us as the leader in the mid-market travel sector.”
Best Western expanded north to Canada more than 50 years ago when Vancouver’s City Center Motel raised the first Best Western flag in 1954. In the 1960s, the City Center Motel in Edmonton and the Ambassador in Calgary, followed by the Cairn Croft and Your Host Motels in Niagara Falls, joined the system. Today, Best Western is the second largest hotel chain in Canada with more than 170 locations and more than 16,500 rooms countrywide.
PROMOTING CANADA—INSIDE AND OUT
Encouraging Canadians to travel within their own borders rather than taking their dollars elsewhere will be a focal point throughout 2006. Randy Williams, president and CEO for TIAC, said that, although Canada’s $55 billion travel market is losing ground globally to countries such as China, strategies on several different levels are being initiated to swing the pendulum back in Canada’s favor.
“The continued decline in visits from the American market—which is furthered by the misunderstanding regarding passport requirements—coupled with our own need to boost awareness among residents of the European Union, Mexico, China and Korea, are some of the main reasons that the CTC budget of $80 million needs to be increased by $100 million. This will enable Canada to compete in a highly competitive global marketplace,” said Williams.
Tony Pollard, president of HAC, agreed, but also thinks more needs to be done to promote Canadian tourism to Canadians. He wants to see the government support the Canadian Tourism Commission by helping them find new ways to create additional revenue.
“Let’s fish where the fish are, since the biggest market for Canada is right in our own back yard,” said Pollard. “With a strong economy comes strong tourism. The continued stagnation in the American economy will not help our bottom line in the near term, so reaching out to our own, as well as abroad, will help our cause immensely.”
Alison Hermansen, vice president of national travel and member rewards alliances for CAA, concurs that more needs to be done to promote domestic tourism within Canada. There are many activities to be enjoyed at home that extend beyond Montreal and Toronto, for example. With gas prices expected to stay at increased levels well into the New Year, educating Canadians to take the new “Keep Exploring” tag line to heart will be key to the growth of the domestic travel sector.
WHAT’S HOT FOR 2006 and beyond?
CAA travel agents see that demand has shifted to the Dominican Republic and Cuba after this season’s Mexican hurricanes. As a result, the company is recommending that consumers plan ahead and book in advance as much as possible—especially if they still plan on traveling to areas damaged by one of this year’s storms. The strength of the Canadian dollar will encourage travel to the U.S., Hermansen said. The Caribbean will be strong, as will travel to Europe. International visits to Canada will steadily rise as the new ADS agreement takes hold.
“We anticipate more than 100,000 Chinese visiting Canada in 2005,” said Williams. “With Approved Destination Status (ADS), expected in 2006, this number should grow to 250,000 by 2010. This agreement represents an obvious significant opportunity for Canada. Additionally, with the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver/Whistler the Canadian brand will be on more people’s minds internationally than ever before. The industry anticipates reaching $75 billion in tourism receipts in 2010 which represents 34% growth in seven years.”
Best Western’s Dowling says the hotel company will be bullish on continued growth in Canada. “We lead the mid-market category in the U.S., so we will continue to focus on increasing awareness of Canada to all North Americans,” she said. “Nearly half of our bookings are made via the Internet, so therefore we’ll invest heavily in a variety of online marketing efforts in 2006—in addition to launching another summer promotion with YTV and The Fairly OddParents as well as several exciting new programs in conjunction with our 60th Anniversary.”
The roundtable experts all agreed that the Internet will play an increasingly important role in the education and booking process, especially for the baby boomer market. As this sizable population segment retires, more disposable income will be available for the travel and tourism sectors to leverage. The industry is also very competitive, said Hermansen, so it is important to be aligned with the right partners. One of their strongest partnerships lies with Best Western, whose customer base, Dowling said, “is a mirror image of CAA’s.”