Supporting Small Business & Tourism? Federal Politicians Don't Seem To Get It

Open Jaw
by Bruce Parkinson

Helen Hewetson is happy to be consulted by the federal government about whether it is doing enough to support and promote her industry. But the travel agency owner isn’t sure the Feds understand what that industry is.

“I was just sent a letter and survey from the Liberal Party Critic for Small Business and Tourism. This MP wants my opinion, as a travel agent, about what the Feds can do to improve Canada’s tourism sector. Should they be spending money on marketing? Reducing airport fees? Investing in festivals etc.? Do I think the government is doing enough to support the tourism industry? And which markets do I see as my biggest growth market? U.S.? China? India? Europe? S.A.? And would I like to see the Canadian Tourism Commission return to marketing in the U.S.?”

Hewetson says she’s all for increased spending in the tourism sector, but it doesn’t have much relevance to her business. “I feel I am probably like the overwhelming majority of Canadian agents, primarily concerned with outbound tourism. If they are asking about CTC spending, inbound growth markets, and tourism promotion in the U.S., then why on earth are they asking me?”

The letter from Arnold Chan, MP for Scarborough/Agincourt and the Liberal Party Critic for Small Business and Tourism begins like this: “As you are no doubt aware, tourism is a $35 billion industry in Canada and employs over 600,000 people. Yet, the industry has struggled in recent years, lagging behind many of our key competitors.

I am writing to you today to gain your unique insight on the travel industry. As a travel agent, you have direct knowledge of our tourism industry and the challenges it faces.”

Well, not necessarily. Most Canadian travel agents don’t sell that much Canadian product. They spend most of their time helping Canadians plan their journeys outside our borders. The people who would have much more direct knowledge of our tourism industry and the challenges it faces are inbound operators and those who depend on tourists coming to Canada.

“I hope the small hoteliers and B&B’s and outfitters and whale watching companies and local inbound operators are being asked their opinions,” Hewetson says. “If they truly want my opinion on what can be done to support small business in the tourism sector, I think there are other issues that could be given more play, such as subsidized employee programs for small businesses or investment grants for expansion projects,” the agency owner says.

Instead of “initiatives that might help us,” Hewetson says, the biggest impact the Feds have had on her business of late consisted of “making us jump through massive hoops like that wretched anti-spam e-mail permissions business.” She refers to the poorly communicated and unnecessarily onerous Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) that resulted in cost and confusion for travel agencies and other small businesses.

“Asking us (travel agents) about Canadian Tourism Commission spend is only going to waste their time and effort, and get them uninterpretable, confused results,” Hewetson says.

She wonders if other travel agents received a similar letter and how they feel about whether or not federal politicians understand the workings of the industries they are assigned to represent and support.

Your comments are invited below. We would like to let Arnold Chan know how businesses in Canada’s travel industry feel.

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