In a speech to the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, Jean-Marc Eustache, President and Chief Executive Officer of Transat A.T. Inc., one of the largest integrated tourism companies in the world and a major incoming operator to Canada, emphasized the need to adopt a concerted strategy for international tourism at a time when demand for Canada as a tourism destination, despite extraordinary potential, is continuing to erode.
From 2002 to 2008, international tourism increased by some 30%, with almost all countries showing growth – except Canada, which experienced a decline of 15%. Evoking the surprise imposition of a visa requirement on visitors from Mexico, the financial burden on the industry caused by our airport financing structure and the recent 50% increase in the air travel security surcharge on international passengers, Mr. Eustache said: "We aren’t able to ‘think tourism’ and act strategically. With our market share in decline, a strong dollar, and a product in transition, there is a pressing need for a national strategy – one characterized by a renewed vision and greater consistency."
Citing as examples Turkey, Malaysia and Montenegro – three countries currently enjoying healthy tourism growth – Mr. Eustache championed a vision of tourism keyed to natural and cultural-heritage assets. Transat’s founder acknowledged the significant work accomplished in Montreal in recent years, while adding that more has to be done, and faster.
"Surely it is possible to do things well, and do them more quickly," he said, referring among other things to the planned rail shuttle link between downtown and Trudeau airport. Mr. Eustache also proposed giving the St. Lawrence River and Valley their rightful place in tourism and economic development. "The St. Lawrence River Valley, from Montreal to the Gulf, is the backbone of our tourism offering. It is home to wonderful landscapes and heritage treasures, often poorly protected and without a doubt underexploited," he said. Mr. Eustache concluded his remarks by saying: "With the heritage we have to offer, we have everything we need to ensure that future generations can prosper from tourism, in a way that respects that legacy we all share. To succeed, it will take a global strategy, consistency, and more agile decision-making."