Canada's visa process affects Chinese tourists

Updated: 2013-05-03 11:25

By Eddy Lok and Li Na in Toronto (China Daily)

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 Canada's visa process affects Chinese tourists

Chinese tourists leave for Canada at Beijing Capital International Airport. Trade organizations and businesses have called for the Canadian government to simplify the visa application to attract more tourists from China, following the suit of the United States. For China Daily

 Canada's visa process affects Chinese tourists

Michael Chan, Ontario's minister of tourism, culture and sport, believes an increase in Chinese tourists brings more spending as well as new investment in tourism facilities and more jobs to the local economy. Li Na / China Daily

It's one of their top 10 favorite travel destinations and gets high marks when it comes to its beauty and hospitality. But Canada also is a headache for Chinese tourists who want in, but too often are kept waiting or kept out.

The visa process for visiting Canada is bogged down by a lengthy application form and a process that takes too long, according to tourism-trade operators and others.

"We need to simplify and facilitate visa applications," said Nathan Xu, director of the China National Tourist Office in Toronto, at the second Canada-China Travel Trade Forum on April 26 in Toronto. On the other hand, there is a high approval rate for those seeking a Chinese visa to visit China, he added.

Xu, who is spearheading China's tourism drive in North America, also said the Canadian market lags behind other competing destinations to expand and tap Chinese outbound tourism.

There were 83 million Chinese outbound travelers last year, an increase of 18.4 per cent over the prior year, he said.

The number of Chinese travelling to Canada has been steadily growing and is expected to maintain the momentum this year. In 2009, 245,000 Chinese tourists visited Canada; in 2010, 300,000; in 2011, 370,000; and last year, 410,000, according to Xu.

On Canada-to-China travel trade, bilateral visits between the two countries totalled more than 1.1 million, with more than 700,000 Canadians visiting China last year.

The steady increase in Chinese visitors to Canada follows the approved destination status agreement (ADS) signed in 2010 between the two countries. It allows Canadian travel operators - including hotels and tour agents - to advertise their services and do promotions in China in collaboration with their Chinese partners. The agreement also makes it easier for Chinese citizens to obtain government approval to travel to the designated country. A total of 148 countries and regions have signed the ADS agreement with China.

While companies around the world seek Chinese who have become the world's biggest-spending travellers - they spent a $102 billion last year. China reciprocates by aggressively luring tourists to its own attractions, some dating back to 5,000 years, Xu said.

"China has become the third-largest tourist destination and the number one tourist generating market in Asia and the biggest domestic travel market in the world," Xu said.

The total value of the Canada and China travel trade is C$500 million ($495 million) a year to China, Xu said. The gross revenue for China's tourism industry last year was $415 billion, and China recorded 2.9 billion domestic travellers and 57.4 million inbound overnight visitors last year, according to him.

Xu's complaint that Canada's visa-application process is complicated, lacks efficiency and takes too long resonates with the travel industry in Canada and some local government officials.

Frank Kinsella, mayor of Ontario's Leeds and the Thousand Islands, was applauded at the forum when he told how he and the mayors of Banff and Niagara Falls went to the Canadian consulate in Shanghai during a visit to China several years ago for an explanation of the visa difficulties.

Kinsella said the major concern of Canadian authorities is human smuggling from around the world and the government has had to put in place measures to prevent that from happening in Canada.

"We recognize this to be a legitimate excuse," Kinsella said. "One of the things they are concerned about is they do not want Canada to be the doorway to the US vis a vis smuggling people into the US."

Kinsella said the way around that is to hold travel agents in China and Canada accountable, and those responsible for visa applications should have their status revoked if someone disappears when in Canada.

"The Canadian government does not want human smuggling to occur," he said. "So, it is the responsibility of everyone, including the industry, which has a role to play.

"In the past, we had investors scheduled to come in to look at properties but they could not get visas on time and trips were cancelled and we had to make new arrangements and this just caused a lot of problems."

Kinsella told China Daily that he believes it is easier for Chinese to go to the US than to travel to Canada.

Canada's visa-rejection rate for those seeking entry from China over the past three years was about 20 percent to 25 percent, compared to about 10 percent for those seeking a US travel visa, according to Bobby Cai, president of the Canada-China Tourism Association.

A single-entry visa to Canada costs 475 yuan; multiple entry is 950 yuan and there is a logistics fee of 250 yuan.

Yun Chang, executive director of the Canada-China Chamber of Commerce, echoed Xu's lament over visa application procedures and what he said was the high rejection rate for Chinese applications.

"This is a big problem for tourists and business people," he said. "We have to sort out this problem, otherwise while we promote Canada and they cannot come, they get frustrated."

Cai said that in addition to a lot of paper work, it takes a long time to know the outcome of a visa application.

"China is a very big market and this visa thing is a very big issue we need to impress on the authorities to speed up and reduce the visa fees, and hopefully, they will be more interested to come to Canada," Cai said.

He said the association had brought up the matter with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenny recently, and they understood the problem but explained that improvements could only be made gradually.

Xu also said that he doesn't think most Canadian hotels are ready to receive Chinese visitors, citing the absence of Chinese TV programs or Chinese newspapers in hotel rooms.

"They (hotels) said they are ready, but I don't think so," he said. "You have to spend more efforts to train staff, improve services according to requests of Chinese visitors and ask staff to cooperate with visitors. Hotels are also expensive."

Patrick Cheung, president of Sunny Tours Inc, was less critical of the hotel standards, saying a lot of Canadian hotels and tour services had improved.

"Some hotels have started to provide toothbrushes and slippers in China, you can have everything," he said.

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(China Daily 05/03/2013 page11)