London News & Search
An increase in the number of overseas tourists drawn to Canada in its sesquicentennial year isn’t expected to trickle down to Southwestern Ontario.
Instead, local tourism organizations say they will continue to focus on their bread-and-butter clientele — Americans who live close to the Great Lakes.
Statistics Canada reports the number of tourists from China is increasing. China sends the second-highest number of visitors annually to the country after the United Kingdom.
International border crossings into Ontario have grown by about 15 per cent since 2016. That number includes people from the United States.
But many overseas tourists flood larger cosmopolitan cities such as Toronto or Vancouver, leaving Southwestern Ontario in its Great Lakes bubble.
One reason is because area attractions are mainly marketed as convenient, relaxing weekend getaways.
Despite being mostly overlooked by overseas visitors, Southwestern Ontario is still a magnet, said Jen Moore, marketing manager at the Southwestern Ontario Tourism Corp.“Our website traffic has been doubling,” she said. “So we’re putting a greater focus on those that have already expressed interest in coming here.”
Moore noted that people in this region tend to be quintessential Canadians who are friendly and willing to share their favourite local spots with tourists. The tourism corporation that was set up by the province is using this local feel to market Southwestern Ontario as a low-risk, safe travel option.
Though overseas visitors aren’t really a focus because of budget restrictions, Moore said it does market to Americans living near the Great Lakes.
“It’ll cost them much less to come here,” she said. “With the exchange rate, their meals are 35 per cent cheaper.”
The corporation uses digital initiatives to market the many beaches in the region, as well as local food. Southwestern Ontario has four coveted blue-flag beaches — there are only 26 in all of Canada — and is known for its great restaurants and wineries that source locally.
Big tourist draws such as the renowned Stratford Festival also focus on marketing to Americans and Canadians.
But the festival also targets international tourists, publicity director Ann Swerdfager said.
“Our international visitors come from three categories,” she said. “People who are already familiar with us, people who are stopping by as they travel Canada, and people who come on tour groups.”
In terms of people coming from overseas, the top countries are the U.K., Japan and Australia, Swerdfager said.
John Winston, general manager at Tourism London, said that 90 per cent of visitors to the city come from Ontario for sports and music events.
“Our international tourists we get are primarily from Michigan,” he said. “We do not have major attractions but major events are a big factor.”
Winston said that people coming for music events spend twice as much money as other tourists, noting that when the band Pearl Jam played at Budweiser Gardens in 2013, hotels were completely booked.
London News & Search