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TIAC’s inaugural Tourism Investor Forum drives innovation and promotes resiliency

Key players gathered in Mississauga to discuss innovation, investment, and global competitiveness in Canada’s tourism industry despite ongoing challenges

Photo by Digital Journal
Photo by Digital Journal

While the worst of the pandemic is widely considered to be in our rear-view mirror, some of the hardest hit industries are still trying to bounce back to their pre-COVID standings. Tourism is rebounding, but after such a significant pivot, many have realized it’s time to start approaching the business differently and try to shield it from another significant downturn. 

To aid in that growth, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) is hosting its inaugural 2024 Tourism Investor Forum from Feb. 11 to 13 at the Hilton Mississauga. Offering opportunities for businesses to connect with potential investors eager to fuel their tourism ventures, they’re working to drive innovation, sustainability and competitiveness in the sector.

Victoria Clarke, CEO of Visit Mississauga, summed it up when she said, “Every destination across this country has something that is unique and unexpected.”

“I’m Taylor, not Travis”

The full day of panels and discussions began with a fireside chat featuring the feel-good success story of Max Tremaine, co-founder of sherpa, and his ongoing investor partnership with Narrative Fund’s Stuart MacDonald. 

Sherpa helps global travellers meet ever-changing identification requirements, guidelines, and rules and regulations so they can move more easily across borders. The company started because Tremaine and his business partner, Ivan Sharko, often found themselves arguing with border agents about documentation when travelling for work. 

They recognized the opportunity to fill a gap in a growing market that would be sustainable as people are “looking for interesting experiences delivered in a smooth way.” MacDonald, founder of Expedia.ca turned capital investor, soon entered the fray to provide an understanding of the travel industry and help navigate the unique space. 

Photo by Digital Journal

When looking for an investor relationship, MacDonald and Tremaine say it’s important both sides are thoughtful about their selections because it’s a long-term commitment. 

For founders, Tremaine said, it’s important to find people that earnestly believe in the company. MacDonald agrees, saying it’s key to finding investors that understand and believe in what you’re trying to do. 

“Business is a team sport — there’s no way to do it alone,” MacDonald continued. He then used a very on-trend reference, noting “I’m Taylor [Swift], not Travis [Kelce].” A part of this role is providing support and cheering from the sidelines, not making the plays.

While some may be hesitant, Tremaine believes having a co-founder is also a major benefit to any business because you can challenge each other’s ideas and rely on someone else to think of the sides of the business you may have missed. It comes down to collaboration, and the psychology of starting a business is difficult to reconcile so the support is welcome. 

Being based in Canada also has significant benefits, including a great talent pool and a high-standing in the global market, they say. But businesses should still think about how what they’re doing can be used across multiple geographies and create enduring value worldwide as a really successful business will compete on the international stage and eventually export Canadian products. 

From a tourism perspective, MacDonald says Canada also has to think more globally than it does currently.

“I believe we undersell ourselves and that we, as a destination with a global audience, has so much more to offer,” he said. “We need to think bigger.”

Make your request for capital standout

When it comes to securing capital, Othello Tuason, principal and founder of Nautilus Endeavours, recommends a lot of preparation. He advocates for the “Five C’s of Credit”: Character, Capacity, Capital, Collateral and Conditions. 

Echoing sentiments from the first session, character is important and speaks to the need for “kismet” as you’re going to be working together for a long time. The money-related C’s account for how much debt you can take on, how much you’ve invested, assurances and secondary forms of repayment, and the terms of the provided credit, as well as the market environment.

Photo by Digital Journal

This presentation is the fifth in a multi-session discussion that began in September 2023 with “How Companies are Financed – Debt and Equity.” A key component of the presentation was about selling your investment story in confidential information memorandum (CIM) — a document used by advisors to match investors with companies — by delivering a consistent message to multiple capital sources and creating competitive tension. 

Much of investing is about timing, so market factors will help determine investor decisions, including economics and regulatory or legislative changes, as well as financial dynamics such as interest rates. Company factors that will also be considered include business plans and preparedness to utilize the funds, in addition to company-specific drivers like relative opportunities in the industry compared to other companies, efficiencies and sustainability. 

Numbers show tourism in Canada is back, said Tuason, so investments are back too. 

It’s up to you to outline your strategic plan on how you’re going to use the investor’s money. Using a colourful analogy, he noted it’s like the dog chasing the pickup truck, but doesn’t know what it’ll do once it catches the bumper. You need to know why you are asking for money because lenders often just want to be the solution to your answer. 

At the same time, investors have to understand the risk, so companies have to articulate the risk while also explaining how they plan to mitigate it. The more answers you have, the more convincing your proposal will be. 

The importance of building resilience

Even though tourism is rebounding, there are many challenges facing the industry. 

Clark Hoskin, senior manager of economic advisory at Deloitte, spoke to the headwinds confronting hospitality, including talent shortages, rising costs due to wage increases and debt servicing, changing consumer expectations, and reputational challenges including social media scrutiny. 

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That’s why building resilience at a business level is essential. Hoskin recommends companies explore how their purpose can fulfill employees’ career goals, which will build retention. Embracing sustainability and regenerative experiences, while also understanding guests and elevating their experiences can also build resilience. For example, tourists had high expectations of rural destinations during COVID that didn’t have the capacity to accommodate or meet all their needs. Conversely, Sault Ste. Marie is upgrading its mountain biking trails to attract more high-value guests. 

“By investing in technologies and strategies that enhance the guest experience, businesses can create these memorable moments that foster loyalty,” he said.

Other recommendations include:

  • Cater to the ever-growing population of remote and hybrid workers’ needs and provide a seamless work environment. 
  • Build your business’ technological ecosystem and think about the opportunities AI presents in advertising strategy and content personalization. 
  • Provide exceptional service, and prepare to target and prioritize as pent-up demand will eventually slow.

Moreover, global competitiveness is critical to attracting new tourists to Canada.

The 2021 World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Development Index showed high-income travellers want to spend more time and money on experiences they want, which presents an opportunity for Canadian hospitality to meet their needs. 

This requires making tourism a priority on all Canadian government landscapes as two current barriers to visitors are port and transportation infrastructure (ranked 42nd globally), and international openness (ranked 41st globally).

Matthew Hobbs, senior global trade advisor of global trade and investment at Deloitte LLP, added that there’s overlap between tourism and bringing in foreign direct investment (FDI) as major conferences and events can attract businesses and investors. 

FDI drives economic growth in three main ways: it facilitates the growth of flow capital across borders; allows companies to expand operations and technological business opportunities in those markets; and contributes to the economy by creating jobs, bringing in new technology and promoting general economic development.

Destination development in Canada

While there are plenty of hypotheticals on what the tourism industry can do in the future, Erica D’Souza took the stage to explain the new Tourism Corridor Strategy Program.

As the senior program manager of destination development at Destination Canada, D’Souza said the program is developing multiple corridors across Canada as a way to motivate travellers to visit new destinations while also continuing to go to the well-known ones.

Launched over eight months in 2023, D’Souza said they’re working with communities to combine resources and have the greatest impact, yielding the highest return on their tourism investments. Elements of destination development include: environmental integrity; infrastructure, access and amenities, including logistics and maintenance; collaboration; experience development; and tourism workforce. 

Photo by Digital Journal

“Our mandate is to build a profitable and vibrant tourism sector for Canada,” she said. “We focused on catalyzing actions, creating strategies with communities with clusters and corridors, so that we can really maximize our collective resources and have a greater impact.”

This kind of development does take a lot of time and effort, she added, but that’s why the implementation plan is so important. The program helped Destination Canada’s pilot teams understand the resources needed to bring these shared visions to life in the long-term.

“It’s critical that we have technology and tools to inform destination development, and build more robust business for future success,” said D’Souza.

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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