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Chinese eye Whistler business opportunities

Blog by Nick Swinburne | October 21st, 2010

The distances between Whistler and the rest of the world are shrinking, according to Conservative MP John Weston.

The Member of Parliament for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea-to-Sky Country accompanied a delegation of Chinese officials around Whistler on Saturday (Oct. 16). Fellow Canadian MP Daryl Kramp from Belleville, Ont., along with Bloc Quebecois MP Luc Malo and Senator Joseph Day joined the group.

The visit was just the latest development in an ongoing effort to firm up ties between China and the Sea to Sky corridor. Last month, a group of Sea to Sky leaders took part in a series of discussions and presentations at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

Zheng Silin, chair of the Chinese-Canadian Legislative Association, led the Chinese contingent during last weekend's visit to the corridor. Kramp, Malo and Day all sit as members of the association.

Last December, China's government granted Canada approved destination status (ADS) after 10 years of lobbying. The declaration paved the way for increased tourist travel from China to Whistler and the rest of the country.

The politicians toured Quest University in Squamish and Olympic venues in Whistler with the aim of exploring business and educational opportunities in the Sea to Sky corridor. The group then met with a panel of local business leaders at the Whistler Public Library to discuss opportunities in Whistler.

The panel included Tourism Whistler President and CEO Barrett Fisher, Whistler 2010 Sport Legacy vice-president Diane Mombourquette, Whistler Blackcomb Senior VP Doug Forseth, Whistler Film Festival Director Shauna Hardy Mishaw and Councillor Chris Quinlan.

Kramp expressed his concern that not all the Chinese travellers who want to come to Canada are actually getting the documentation they need to make the trip. According to Kramp, when Canada received ADS from the Chinese government, the demand for visas increased by 80 per cent. Only 10 per cent of those Chinese citizens seeking visas to visit Canada are getting the travel permits, he said.

“Something is wrong with this picture,” he said.

The average Chinese visitor spends $10,000 when he or she takes a vacation to Canada, Kramp said.

Fisher responded to Kramp's concern by pointing out that ADS is new. Before China granted the status — which allows Chinese visitors to visit Canada for tourism, not just for family or business reasons — Vancouver was a popular destination for Chinese citizens travelling under their nation's friends and relatives program. Fisher said Whistler is partnering with Vancouver to take advantage of Vancouver's high profile with Chinese travellers.

Fisher agreed that the visa process needs to be improved and that Tourism Whistler supports any improvements to the process.

Weston said after the meeting that a top issue for him relates to visas. He believes people in China who want to work abroad represent a potential pool of foreign workers for Whistler.

Weston also pointed out Canada has expertise that could benefit the 200 ski resorts operating in China.

When asked about barriers to tourism and efforts to offer HST rebates to tourists, Weston said all the issues could be addressed. He added that the federal government is listening and committed to helping increase the number of Chinese visitors coming to Whistler.

“Against perfect, we have failed,” Weston said. “Against reality, it is good.”

According to Weston, two of the Chinese representatives on the tour represented constituencies of more than 350 million Chinese people.

Quinlan said after the meeting that he was pleased with the level of engagement. Whistler is doing its best to take advantage of the exposure the resort received through hosting the Olympic Winter Games, he said.