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Canadian Tourism Behind in Social Media

Canadian Tourism Behind in Social Media

Posted by Bruce McDougall on February 24, 2014

As the world becomes more prosperous, a greater number of people from a greater number of countries have the financial resources to travel. To inform themselves about a destination, they can communicate instantaneously with the rest of the world through mobile networks and other technologies.

Unfortunately, when it comes to its presence on social media networks, Canada remains a technological backwater. Although Canada has one of the most advanced communication systems in the world, its government might as well communicate with a chisel on a stone tablet. It’s no coincidence that, as social media have developed over the last 8 years, fewer travelers have chosen to come to Canada.

Of the 8.3 million Brazilians who traveled beyond their country’s borders in 2012, for example, fewer than 1% of them came to Canada. From Mexico, more than 14 million people traveled to the U.S. in 2012, but only 132,000 Mexicans came to Canada. Most visitors to Canada come from the U.S., and most of them live within a day’s drive of the border, so they don’t stay long and they don’t spend much money here.

Part of the problem arises from the imposition by Canada’s government of stringent documentation requirements on travellers from Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Chile. But part of the problem also arises from the Canadian government’s antediluvian policies regarding social networking.

Canada’s Tourism Commission boasts that its Portuguese Facebook page now has more than 120,000 fans. (Shakira has 83 million.) It also brags that CTC-Brazil’s Twitter account has more than 2,000 followers. (Justin Bieber has 50 million.) The CTC also prides itself on a prize-winning promotional campaign and its creation of a “user-friendly website”. Unfortunately, the rest of the world has become far more user-friendly than Canada.

In the U.S., according to commentator Roland Paris, the State Department’s combined social media reach on Twitter and Facebook exceeds 26 million people. That means the U.S. State Department is not only half as popular as Justin Bieber, it also reaches more people than the 10 largest U.S. newspapers combined. “These initiatives have effectively transformed the State Department into a global media empire,” Paris says.

Canada’s official policies on social media would make anyone think twice about visiting this country. While Twitter users talk to each other with the blink of a technological eye, Canada’s foreign service bureaucrats must plan their tweets several weeks in advance, refer them to a phalanx of bureaucrats for official vetting, then send them to ministerial aides and follow a 12-step protocol before they can finally hit the Send button on their 140-character message. That’s equivalent to about 10 officially approved words a day. “[There’s] such a high level of control,” says a Canadian Press report, “that arrangements are made days in advance to have other government agencies re-tweet forthcoming Industry Canada tweets, because re-tweets are considered a key measure of success.”

With such regressive thinking, Canada is squandering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build relationships with millions of people, many of whom might come to this country if they knew more about it and felt more welcome. Canada’s immediate neighbours, the U.S., Brazil and Mexico, now rank among the 14 countries in the world with more than 100 million mobile subscribers apiece. The U.S. and Brazil also stand among the top four markets in the world for sales of smartphones, and the market in Brazil is expected to grow over the next couple of years at a more rapid rate than any other country in the world except India.

If Canada could plug itself into these networks in a way that invited people to pay attention to this country, we could expect more people to visit. Our country may seem cold, remote and snowy compared to destinations such as England, France or India, and we have little in our brief history to compare with landmarks like Oxford University, which celebrated its 700th birthday around the same time as Canada became a nation in 1867. But Canada’s largest city, Toronto, is one of the most culturally diverse urban centres on the planet. And any country that can lay claim to Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, the Rocky Mountains and the Montreal Canadiens must have something to offer its visitors besides snowshoes.

“Foreign ministries that fail to adapt to the social media revolution will lose influence over time,” says Roland Paris. For Canada, at least as a tourist destination, that time has already come.

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