Alberta’s minister of economic development and trade headed to Asia last week on a trade mission to meet with potential investors, buyers and government leaders during a 12-day trip to Japan and China. Minister Deron Bilous said in an interview with the Outlook on Friday (Dec. 9) that among representatives of 86 businesses and organizations from Alberta that went with him, a significant portion represented the province’s tourism industry.
Bilous said economic development efforts by the government include traditional areas like agricultural and energy, but tourism is also a key component in strengthening the economy.
“I often talk about diversification as one of our strategies to building a more resilient economy and when I talk about diversification, I am talking about Alberta building on our strengths,” he said. “We know we have a strong agriculture and agri-food industry, and we talk about diversifying energy, but a key component is also tourism.”
While in China, the minster and the delegation from Alberta participated in trade and investment conferences with more than 1,200 enterprises and government officials in sessions in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Yantai. Bilous said Guangzhou in particular is a city whose residents are a key tourism market as the number of tourists that come from that area is the largest overall in China.
Ron Hoffman, Alberta’s senior official to the Asia-Pacific Basin, was also part of the trade mission, as he mans the province’s trade office in Guangdong Province, which is where Guangzhou is located. Hoffman said residents of the region, which is in south China, travel more than any other jurisdiction in the country, spend more when they travel than other tourists and are already connecting to the story of Alberta.
“These are very large consumer markets,” Hoffman said. “The opportunity to grow in them is enormous.” “For all kinds of reasons, the potential and implication of putting Alberta on the map for Chinese tourists is important.”
The Guangzhou minister of tourism and media met with Bilous while he was there, having met each other earlier this year when the Chinese official came to Alberta in summer. Because of that face-to-face meeting in summer, the minister said a positive and strong relationship was forged.
The tourism relationship between Alberta and China was also strengthened this year, Bilous added, when a direct flight to Calgary by Hainan Airlines began. Before that, the Chinese government recognized Canada as an approved destination for its citizens to travel as tourists. Chinese tourists that obtain a visa to travel to Canada can also use it for up to 10 years – a recent change as well.
“There was a lot of discussion and exchanging of ideas – it was great to see their interest in Alberta is genuine,” Bilous said.
While promoting tourism and visitation was part of the trade mission, promoting investment in tourism in Alberta is also a major aspect of the trip. Bilous said what may start as a vacation destination could also turn into business opportunities and opportunities to partner.
The provincial government has opened five trade offices in China, with three in mainland China, one in Hong Kong and one in Taiwan. Bilous said the message is that Alberta is a great place to invest, do business and play. That message was received, as the minister indicated that the minister of tourism for the Guangdong province confirmed that he will bring a Chinese delegation to Alberta in 2017.
“This is very exciting,” Bilous said. “This is how we move relationships forward.”