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Talking Canada with Marsha Walden

We chat to Marsha Walden, President and CEO, Destination Canada

Talking Canada with Marsha Walden

We chat to Marsha Walden, President and CEO, Destination Canada

How do you assess the current health of Canada’s tourism industry?

I would say that if we were a hospital patient we would be about to be released! All the vital signs are looking good and the growth trajectory looks strong. 

We think that by 2024 we will be more or less back to 2019 levels, in terms of our visitor numbers. By the end of 2022 our recovery was around 89% (of 2019 numbers) and that is in line with most Western countries. Canada had a bit of a late start as our entry restrictions and rules lasted a little longer than in Europe and the U.S. but we feel good about where we are now and it has been enough to stabilise our industry and get it back on the right track.

You said at Rendez-vous Canada in Québec City in June that you can see consumer tastes and values changing. What do you mean by this? 

Well, I think it is becoming clear that the pandemic has had a lasting impact on people’s  psyche and their desire for natural space and the great outdoors. 

When everyone started to travel again they did so in a way that incorporated more wide-open spaces into their itineraries. 

Also, I am sure we will see more combinations of what I call ‘blended travel’, that is where travellers combine the opportunity to work from anywhere but attach to this the desire to bolt on a significant holiday – and now not just a day or two but a week or more.

The desire to enjoy more sustainable and responsible travel experiences will further take hold. We are seeing growth in both areas every year and we know more consumers are prioritising these in their travel plans. 

They are maybe travelling a little less frequently but are staying longer and getting to better know a place by really immersing themselves in the local flavours. 

These are perhaps not ‘tidal waves’ that are overtaking the travel industry but they are definite trends that have seen steady growth for several years now.

You are a strong advocate of tourism having a regenerative effect on everything from local communities to the country’s economy. Explain how deep-seated this can be.

(Laughs) Regenerative tourism is a bit of a pet phrase right now but I am really trying hard for it to mean something where Canada is concerned. We need real action around this term and some of the ways in which we are turning in that direction are already meaningful. There are so many aspects of the tourism lens that is positive. 

When money is spent in tourism so much goes back to the local economy, so there is a vital regenerative aspect right there.  

Tourism has a positive influence in a socio-cultural way too and plays a part in helping everything from small communities to deep-rooted cultures preserve or regenerate. 

We are seeing this play out in our Indigenous communities. More and more visitors to Canada are now interested in learning the story of our First Nations people and seeing and understanding the cultural impact of, for example, dance, song, food, stories and story telling. There is now a terrific synergy between these aspirations and how tourism can deliver and preserve.

What about the regenerative benefits of tourism on the environment ?

Perhaps more than any other sector, travel and tourism has a vested interest in our land staying beautiful and as untouched and pristine as possible. Our natural beauty and unspoilt landscapes  are why the world wants to come to Canada.  

Travel and tourism touches upon the three biggest threats to the environment: built infrastructure, transportation, and food production and food waste. We are making great gains on all of these fronts. 


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