Ontario Newsroom

Tourism Industry Overview

Archived Backgrounder

Tourism Industry Overview

Tourism is an important economic driver and community builder in all regions of Canada.  In 2008, tourism activity generated over $74 billion in revenues, representing over 2% of Canada's gross domestic product.[1] Tourism contributes as much to our country's GDP as agriculture, fisheries and forestry combined.

The tourism industry encompasses a diverse range of service sectors; it is a mainstay of small business and the single largest employer of young people.  These mainly small to medium size businesses are concentrated in eight sectors: accommodation, food & beverage, recreation & entertainment, transportation, tourism-related retail, car rentals, tour operators and travel agents.  It is an important source of employment in many regions of Canada, directly employing over 660,000 Canadians.

All levels of Governments are engaged in tourism development including activities such as international and domestic marketing, research, industry development, infrastructure, attracting meetings and conventions, promoting incentive travel, and supporting festivals and events.

The public sector also has the responsibility for managing museums, visitor centres, parks and heritage sites, as well as preserving culture and natural resources and developing tourism policy.  The private sector is at the heart of tourism, creating the products and services to meet the needs of travellers in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.  

Overall tourism growth in the past few years has been driven by domestic tourism (Canadians traveling in Canada), accounting for 79% of total tourism receipts or $59.1 billion (2008).  International tourism generated export revenues to Canada of $15.7 billion (2008). Canada's most important international markets are the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, China and Australia.  The U.S. represents 73% (2008) of all international arrivals and approximately half of total foreign tourism spending.

Canada is ranked 15th in the world in terms of international tourist arrivals and receipts (2008), falling from 7th in international arrivals in 2002[2].  Global tourism trends indicate that traditional destinations are losing market share to new and emerging destinations.  While Europe and North America were the main international tourist destinations before the 1970s, since then Asia Pacific, Africa and the Middle-East have increasingly become popular.  This trend is expected to continue, due to globalization, the Internet, enhanced air access and the appeal of unique travel experiences. 

Canada ranks highly in global country brand recognition, placing 2nd behind Australia in 2008.[3]

[1] Statistics Canada 2008 estimates, National Tourism Indicators

[2] UNWTO World Tourism Barometer

[3]  Futurebrand 2008 Country Brand Index