Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicked off 2018 by declaring it the year of Canada-China tourism, an initiative intended to create closer ties between the two nations.
Fast-forward months later and trouble is brewing between the two nations. Many tourism agencies across Canada have suspended their marketing efforts in China amid a deepening diplomatic spat between Ottawa and Beijing.
“Destination Canada, along with co-invested partners, has temporarily paused our current marketing efforts in China,” Emma Slieker, a spokesperson for Destination Canada said over email.
The federal tourism agency has an account on China’s social media giant Weibo and said it stopped promoting the ad on the website.
When Trudeau announced plans to boost tourism between the two nations, Canada said it was aiming to increase its marketing presence in China and double the numbers of Chinese tourists arriving in the country by 2021.
WATCH: Chinese travellers boost B.C. tourism
But that number could take a hit if the diplomatic rift does not soon fizzle out.
Tensions between the two nations have been rising since Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 and is now facing extradition to the United States for allegedly violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.
China was quick to react, warning there would be “serious” consequences if Meng was not released. China’s foreign ministry said the arrest was “extremely nasty,” that it “ignored the law.”
Last week, China said two Canadians were detained over national security concerns. Then on Wednesday evening, China announced a third Canadian was detained — but Beijing maintained it was unrelated to the previous detainments.
Tense tourism ties between Canada-China
In 2016, Chinese tourists spent more than $1.6 billion in this country. About 682,000 tourists arrived in Canada from China in 2017, and they spent an average of $2,400 each per trip.
According to Destination Canada, Chinese tourists “surged” in September 2018. As of September, more than 584,000 Chinese tourists came to Canada, with more than 95,000 arriving that month. That put Chinese tourists as Canada’s third-largest visitors this year (the United States ranks No. 1 and Britain came in second).
What started off as a strong year between Canada and China seems to now be deteriorating.
On Dec. 14, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly cancelled her trip to China after the news the two Canadians were detained by Chinese officials.
Joly was set to attend the closing ceremony for the Canada-China Year of Tourism, but a spokesperson for the tourism minister said both countries agreed to postpone the trip. A rescheduled date was not given.
Destination Canada said its reason for pausing marketing efforts in China was “based on best marketing practices to ensure our efforts have the desired positive impact of reaching our target travellers.”
“China continues to be our third-largest inbound market and of significant strategic importance in the future,” the tourism agency said.
And other Canadian tourism agencies are following this lead.
WATCH: How will China’s retaliation affect relations with Canada?
“Travel Manitoba has followed the lead of Destination Canada,” Linda Whitfield with Travel Manitoba said.
She said the agency, and many other provinces, have paused its marketing efforts in China in wake of the events.
“We cannot speculate on the potential impact of these events on tourism, but given that China is Canada’s third-largest inbound market, we certainly hope that this situation stabilizes soon and we can get back to business,” she said.
But will the diplomatic row hurt tourism numbers? It still may be too early to tell.
A spokesperson with Canada CYTS Travel Services, a tour operator that serves Chinese travellers, said, “people are worried” but she has not seen a drop in numbers or any cancellations.
She said if the situation gets worse, then it may be time to worry, but she has faith the two nations will settle the dispute.