Canada could rival countries like New Zealand as a destination for young adventurers and visitors looking for natural beauty, but some tour operators say inter-provincial barriers prevent that potential from being unlocked.
Two years ago Jared Nusinoff founded Out Here Travel to get tourists to experience the outdoors in central and east coast areas of Canada in a sustainable and eco-friendly way, offering activities such as sea kayaking, rock climbing, hiking and camping.
“What we offer is basically road trip adventures for people from around the world to experience lots of the great national parks, outdoors natural wonders and cities throughout Ontario, as well as the rest of the East Coast of Canada,” said Nusinoff, who adds most visitors don’t get outside of major cities, like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
“They’re mesmerized. From camping in Algonquin Park to rafting the Ottawa River to going all the way to PEI, Cape Breton to seeing the 50 foot tides in the Bay of Fundy. These are uniquely Canadian experiences. These places are incredible and we are unlocking them for young adventure travellers.”
Nusinoff says while the experiences are wildly popular and get rave reviews on Trip Advisor and are shared widely on Instagram and Facebook, because he operates between provinces and across regions that are represented by siloed tourism boards, he faces roadblocks and a lack of marketing support.
“The regulatory framework in Ontario combined with being inter-provincial has been extremely complicated,” he says, adding that because he crosses provincial boundaries his insurance costs becomes prohibitively expensive when he takes more than a dozen passengers in his tour bus.
“Our liability rates are eight times higher than any other province,” Nusinoff says.
A number of Ontario tourism operators, bus charter companies and associations are lobbying the provincial government to make changes to transportation insurance regulations they say are hampering tourism, job creation and the ability of people to discover what the province has to offer.
Ontario’s Tourism Minister Michael Tibollo did not respond to CBC’s request for comment, but federal Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly says this is just one issue identified as a barrier by the new federal tourism strategy.
“There’s really a potential for creating many jobs in the country, actually 180,000 jobs by 2030 if we address the issues,” said Joly, adding a McKinsey & Company report identified a number of barriers to growth.
“The seasonality of our sector and over concentration of our sector; and actually we needed to look at also the transportation fees, we need to look at the infrastructure issues and the lack of private investment.”
She pointed out that the last federal budget recognized tourism as a national economic priority and will be providing funding and identifying where changes can be made to encourage tourism.
And a $58.2 million “Canadian Experience Fund” will help develop new tourism experiences in areas, such as, Indigenous, rural and remote, winter tourism, culinary experiences and LGBT inclusiveness.
“It’s a down payment from the federal government to save the tourism sector,” said Joly.
Nusinoff is heartened by the national approach to tourism and hopes the grants won’t be administered through provincial or regional tourism boards that have competing interests.
“Travellers come to see Canada. They don’t come to see one province,” he says.
Joly agrees and says that’s why the grants will be administered by the regional development agencies rather than by provinces. And there will be regional tourism roundtables identifying barriers to tourism.
“We needed to work and as a government to make sure that tourism was a priority for government. And at the end of the day that departments would look at what are the ways to actually change the structural barriers. Obviously Canada can become a New Zealand, for example, for young travelers,” says Joly.
And Nusinoff says growing this industry is a work in progress.
“It wasn’t overnight that countries like Iceland or New Zealand ended up growing to huge tourist destinations for young adventure travellers. So it’s the beginning of the journey.”