Considerations for Northern Ontario on Capitalizing on the Growing Mainland Chinese Tourism Market

October 9, 2018 - The Mainland Chinese (MC) outbound tourism market is increasing at one of the fastest rates globally and is the biggest tourism market in the world thanks to its large population and growing middle class. Given how the Chinese visiting market to Canada has grown rapidly (12 per cent growth between 2016 and 2017 alone), these visitors represent an opportunity for tourism development in Canada as they are spending more than individuals from elsewhere. As well, many mainland Chinese travellers are looking to experience the natural beauty and diverse culture that Canada has in spades. This group may also represent an opportunity for Northern Ontario to increase its tourism demand.


The Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation (OTMPC), along with Destination Canada and its partners, have recognized mainland China as a ‘best bet market’. Through partnerships with these organizations, there is opportunity for Ontarian and Canadian tourism industry members to advertise to Asian markets. However, the Northern Ontario-specific target markets according to OTMPC’s strategy include Ontario, nearby US regions, France, Germany, and the UK. Additionally, Tourism Northern Ontario (TNO)’s 2012-2017 marketing strategy focused on expanding Quebec and Manitoban markets. Between 2014 and 2016 in Northern Ontario, visitor rates have maintained an average of around 4,000 visitors[1].

The feasibility of investing in mainland Chinese tourism demand depends on the tourist market patterns, existing social and structural capital present in Northern Ontario, and the success of congruent marketing strategies and partnerships to encourage visitation.

Market Patterns

Long-haul MC travellers tend to stay in hotels (especially when travelling with children) to visit on average two cities at their destination, and use public transportation or taxis to travel. Generally, beauty and uniqueness of a destination as well as safety, ease of visa processes and welcoming locals is a primary consideration for this market when choosing a destination.

Important travel considerations for the MC travellers fall under three main umbrellas: payment methods, language, and internet access. Popular payment methods among MC travellers include Alipay, UnionPay and weChat online platforms. These platforms encourage buying behaviour among MC travellers as they are convenient to use, faster, more secure, and familiar. When interviewed, these travellers stated that having Mandarin-speaking staff and translated tourism information packages would increase their likelihood of visiting a destination or staying at a hotel. Finally, access to internet, data packages and Wi-Fi to stay in touch, upload pictures, and make travel plans is very important among this market when choosing a destination. 

Among Canadian destinations, high rates of MC travellers visit Niagara Falls, Vancouver, the Rocky Mountains, Toronto, and Ottawa. When it comes to other places in Ontario, the rates are lower – only 0.3 per cent of total visits to Canada, to be exact. Young families and youth are more likely to have visited Canada, but knowledge and unaided recall of Canada rates are low all around. Finally, barriers cited for travel to Canada include time, language, and cost.

Social and Structural Capital in Northern Ontario

What does this mean for Northern Ontario? Tourist attractions include the natural, wild scenery and the presence of Indigenous, Francophone, and rural Canadian cultures and histories that are unique to the area. The landscape provides access to both outdoor and resort type activities, such as ATVing, camping, and cross-country skiing, and its remoteness can be good for ‘unwinding’. These ingredients could be marketed to MC travellers, capitalizing mostly on demand for natural scenery, uniqueness of a destination, and adventure.

However, there are drawbacks to visiting Northern Ontario, such as poor internet access in some areas, increased and difficult travel time, reliance on personal vehicles, and a lack of Mandarin speakers. Additionally, there seems to be little knowledge on what tourism activities are available here, according to the low recall for Canada generally as well as the small visitation rates to other places in Ontario besides the GTA and Ottawa.

Potential Marketing Strategies

Northern Ontario stands to benefit from increased travel from mainland China due to the proportionately higher spending that overseas visitors provide compared to Ontarians, the current leading visiting demographic to Ontario’s northern regions.[2] However, much of the necessary physical and digital infrastructure and human capital that would appeal to the long-haul MC traveller is not currently available in Northern Ontario. With this, there are several low-cost investment strategies Northern Ontario can implement:

  1. Incentivising the implementation of payment platforms such as Alipay and weChat in tourism businesses that provide resort-like activities, cuisine, and parks. This has already been implemented in some areas of Canada.
  2. Advertising Northern Ontario on weChat by playing up its uniqueness and beauty as part of air-travel packages that pair flights to Toronto with flights to Northern Ontario.
  3. Using localized language on weChat as a main media platform to promote the Northern Ontario brand. For example, Tourism Vancouver recently partnered with Tencent, who owns the weChat platform.
  4. Providing incentives for incorporating Mandarin translations or Mandarin speaking staff into accommodation or tourist industry jobs.


Myfanwy Pope is a former Policy Summer Placement with Northern Policy Institute.  

[1] “Copy of RTO13 2016 - TSRC and International Travel Survey Data.”

[2] “Copy of RTO13 2016 - TSRC and International Travel Survey Data.”



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1 Reader Comments

  • International Markets for NOnt

    Posted By David MacLachlan on 11/7/2018 1:07:49 PM

    Perhaps it might be a good idea to contact tourism organizations to actually find out what is happening in terms of product development, training and marketing.  Tourism Northern Ontario has never been contacted and the writer of this article has no basis for the comments made in relation to the priorities of this organization.  If they had they would know that under the Tourism Excellence North banner training is being offered to Northern operators to increase the appeal of their tourism products and experiences in the international market and that in fact Northern Ontario is having tremendous success in the European and Asian markets, particularly Korea and Japan.  This builds on our tradition of attracting high yield visitors from the USA and Canada. 

    • Re: International Markets for NOnt

      Posted By charles cirtwill on 11/7/2018 12:49:03 PM

      Hello David,

      Thanks for reaching out. Ms. Pope cites the most current publicly available Marketing Strategy for Northern Ontario. If TNO has published a newer one we, of course, apologize for the error. We also would love to see the data on the market success you describe. Northern Policy Institute routinely publishes success stories so, if you have content you have used internally that you would like to share with all northerners, we would be happy to get the message out. It sounds like TNO and Ms. Pope are very much on the same page in terms of new market opportunities. 

      Charles Cirtwill

      President & CEO, NPI

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