12 JUN 2012: Agents have a plethora of choice this summer on where to send their clients on holidays. Europe has traditionally been a popular destination for Canadians during the summer even though it’s the most expensive time of the year to visit. With all the focus on London recently with the Diamond Jubilee and the upcoming Summer Olympics, some may avoid London but visit other European countries. Many countries in Europe are experiencing harsh economic times. It’s bad news for the country, but good news generally, for the tourist.
It’s unfortunate that another country’s economic misfortune can mean savings and good fortune for visitors. Back in April, I was travelling around Italy for a couple of weeks. I was pleasantly surprised how affordable accommodation was even in prime tourist areas.
Italy has not reached nearly the same point as Greece has but after speaking with many hoteliers, attractions personnel and shopkeepers, one could easily sense the gloomy economic realities. Many were seething with anger about the unscrupulous and corrupt politicians who used taxpayers money for illegal and fraudulent use. It’s one thing to see your high tax dollars being put to good use but another, when so many are just barely surviving, to see politicians pilfer and use it for fraudulent and unsavory purposes. There wasn’t a day that went by while I was there that the newspaper’s front pages weren’t documenting corrupt politicians.
We now have the powerhouse country of Spain receiving a bailout. How the mighty have fallen to harsh economic realities. I always think of Spain here at trade shows when they probably had the biggest and most elaborate exhibit booths. They were the Sandals of trade shows with their presence.
In recent years many European tourism boards have folded their Canadian office or drastically reduced the staff. Foreign tourist boards are now run by one representative who would work from a home office. They are expected to cover the whole country and do the job of previously four to five staff. So I feel for these destination representatives (and have been one!).
Unfortunately some tourism boards have just given lip service to the Canadian market with a yearly visit by someone from New York, Miami or Los Angeles coming up. Of course they go on and on about how much they are committed to the Canadian market. The commitment extends to one visit a year!
I had commented in a previous column how Canada is drastically reducing its funding. It’s sad to say many are following suit (but thankfully not all).
I must admit a sense of guilt while taking advantage of another country’s misfortune by sometimes looking at that destination being a bargain as their economy weakens. My altruistic side says let’s help them out by spending my vacation dollars. I win by having a less expensive holiday and they win by receiving desperately needed currency coming into their country.
Not visiting a country because times are tough would be worse. If anything we should try and make a point of visiting to help a struggling country’s economy along. Canada can relate. Not only when our economy takes a downturn, but when extraordinary events happened like the SARS crisis a few years ago. This decimated the tourism industry in Canada and especially Toronto – it has taken years to recover.
Tourism can play an important role in boosting the country’s GDP – in many cases especially in the Caribbean it can be the biggest industry contributor to the economy. Which is why it’s no surprise that many of the largest foreign tourist boards that still exist in Canada are from the Caribbean. The governments there invest and know how important tourism is to the economy.
Italy has cut back its tourism presence in Canada in recent years though, because it is Italy and so popular, visitors still continue to visit. But no doubt it’s not a rosy picture. During my travels through Rome, Venice, Milan and Bellagio I never had any trouble finding a table for dinner even in the most popular areas. Now late April is not high season but even so, the shops and restaurants were not busy at all for the most part. Along main streets in the larger cities it wasn’t unusual to see empty storefronts. Many retailers said business was slow and they were struggling to survive.
Though no one would ever accuse me of being a shoppe, I do buy the occasional item – usually something decorative item for the home. I don’t patronize the chain shops that have proliferated everywhere when I travel. Why would I spend thousands of dollars and valuable vacation time to go to a chain store I can visit at home? Buy local or from a mom and pop shop.
Travelling for me is an opportunity to discover, learn and to engage with people from around the world. Famed French writer Marcel Proust wrote,
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
It’s not to find a KFC or McDonald’s (which depresses me whenever I see one in a foreign country outside of the US). Keep those eyes fresh to discover new cultures and making new friends while travelling.
And perhaps along the way help our European friends out of their economic malaise.