Canadian tourism organizations, including in North, decide to ‘pause’ marketing in China

A file photo of N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod in China in 2014. He went as part of a trade delegation promoting tourism, diamonds and furs. In 2017/2018, nearly 20,000 Chinese tourists visited the territory. (Governement of Northwest Territories)
Chinese tourism in the Northwest Territories has seen a boom in the past few years, but with the current political chill between Canada and China, some of Canada’s main tourism organizations are stepping back from advertising for a while.

On Dec. 1, one of China’s top telecommunications executives, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Vancouver and held pending a possible extradition to the U.S. on suspicion of fraud involving U.S. sanctions in Iran. She was released on bail Dec. 11.

Her arrest and detention led to increased tensions between Canada and China, with two Canadians detained in China last week on suspicion of “endangering national security.”

In response, the national body that markets Canada as a tourist destination has decided to halt its advertisements in China for the time being.

“Destination Canada, along with our co-invested partners, have decided to temporarily pause or postpone our current marketing efforts in China,” said Emma Slieker, a representative for the organization, in an email.

We really don’t want to be fueling the fire during a time when there’s other stressful conversations going on.

Cathie Bolstad, chief executive officer of NWT Tourism

The organization, which is wholly owned by the federal government and markets the country as a tourism destination internationally, says the marketing it paused primarily promoted winter activities across Canada on Chinese social media.

“China continues to be our third largest inbound market and of significant strategic importance in the future,” Slieker wrote.

A screenshot of Destination Canada’s page on Chinese social media platform Weibo. (Destination Canada/Weibo)

She noted that this isn’t a first for the organization. It also halted advertising in France after a series of attacks in that country in 2015.

NWT Tourism, which is a partner of Destination Canada, markets the territory as a tourist hotspot.

“We really don’t want to be fueling the fire during a time when there’s other stressful conversations going on,” explained Cathie Bolstad, chief executive officer of NWT Tourism.

‘We really don’t want to be fueling the fire during a time when there’s other stressful conversations going on,’ says Cathie Bolstad, chief executive of NWT Tourism. (Submitted by Cathie Bolstad)

According to a spokesperson for the N.W.T’s. Department of Infrastructure, Tourism and Investment, more tourists come to the territory from China than anywhere else in the world.

In 2017/2018, nearly 20,000 Chinese tourists visited the N.W.T., spending almost $2,400 per person per visit, according to the territorial government.

‘Quiet the conversation’

Bolstad said its marketing was on WeChat and Weibo, two top social media platforms in China.

The halt in marketing doesn’t mean all advertisements are being pulled. Rather, Bolstad likens it to a Facebook page becoming inactive.

“[We’re] just trying to quiet the conversation right now in terms of tourism.”

Bolstad said she can’t speculate on what effect this will have on Chinese tourists coming to the Northwest Territories, but said she hasn’t heard any concerns from tourism operators in the territory.

“These trips are often booked and sold well in advance,” she said.

Related links from around the North:

Canada: China’s Arctic ambitions no threat to Canada, say experts, Radio Canada International

Finland:  Finland courts US rivals Russia and China in bid for key role in Arctic power game, Deutsche Welle’s Iceblogger

Greenland: Blog – Controversy over Greenland airports shows China still unwelcome in the Arctic, Crypolotics blog

Norway: Can Barents region become a superhub on China’s Arctic Silk Road?, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: China a key Arctic partner for Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: Blog – Qingdao plays pivotal role in China’s Arctic strategy, Cryopolitics Blog

Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi, CBC News

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