Destination Canada CEO Bets on New Promotion Fund, World Cup 2026

Destination Canada CEO Bets on New Promotion Fund, World Cup 2026

As the world gradually rebounds from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the international tourism landscape is undergoing significant changes. While many Western nations, including the U.S. and Britain, are still awaiting the full return of Chinese group tours to pre-pandemic levels.

Canada has taken proactive steps to adapt to this prolonged absence. Under the leadership of Destination Canada’s CEO, Marsha Walden, the nation is pivoting towards new sources of tourism growth, with strategies including a newly established fund aimed at attracting business events and preparing for the grand stage of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Post-Pandemic Tourism Recovery in Canada

In a recent interview with Skift, Marsha Walden outlined the strides Canada has made in its tourism sector. Despite geopolitical tensions and a travel ban from China that has persisted for over three years, Canada surpassed its 2019 tourism revenue last year thanks to a surge in visitors from the U.S., Europe, Mexico, and Australia.

Walden emphasized that while the number of flights from China remains drastically reduced and Canada is not currently on China’s Approved Destination Status (ADS) list, the focus has shifted towards Fully Independent Travelers (FIT). These travelers spend more time engaging with Canadian culture in ways that enrich the local economy. “Our recovery isn’t just about reaching pre-pandemic numbers; it’s about building a more sustainable and profitable tourism sector,” Walden noted.

Preparing for the FIFA World Cup 2026

As Canada gears up to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup alongside the U.S. and Mexico, there are logistical and infrastructural challenges to address, particularly concerning visa wait times and travel facilitation between the host countries.

“We are in talks to streamline travel processes for fans attending matches across borders to ensure a seamless experience,” Walden stated. The World Cup presents a unique opportunity for a spike in tourism and long-term international exposure. Walden is optimistic about the “legacy impact” of the event, which could redefine global perceptions of Canada as a travel destination.

Launch of the International Convention Attraction Fund

With the recent launch of the International Convention Attraction Fund, Canada is setting its sights on becoming a hub for major global conventions. The fund, endowed with 50 million Canadian dollars by the federal government, provides financial incentives for event organizers to choose Canada as their next venue.

“This initiative helps offset some challenges we’ve faced with the slow recovery of business travel. By focusing on sectors like life sciences and agrotech, we’re boosting tourism and reinforcing our economic growth,” explained Walden. The strategy involves collaboration across Canadian cities and provinces to present a united and attractive front to international business event planners.

Rise in Celestial Tourism

One of the niche markets experiencing significant growth is celestial tourism. Canada’s Northern Lights and dark sky preserves are attracting record numbers of international tourists, particularly from Japan and South Korea. “Our Northern Lights campaign took over Times Square last year, and the response was overwhelming,” Walden shared. These natural phenomena offer unique experiences that are becoming increasingly popular, helping to diversify Canada’s tourism offerings and extend the travel season beyond the traditional summer months.

Challenges Facing Canadian Tourism Businesses

Despite these successes, the Canadian tourism sector faces several challenges. The uneven recovery across different regions and the financial health of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are of particular concern.

According to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, more than half of the country’s SMEs are struggling with loan repayments to the government, a situation exacerbated by the pandemic. “While the industry remains vibrant, the recovery is not uniform. We’re focused on supporting these businesses through transition and ensuring they can capitalize on the increasing travel demand,” Walden emphasized.

New Tourism Data Project

In May, Destination Canada will unveil a groundbreaking tourism data project, which promises to deliver comprehensive insights into the sector. This initiative will integrate data from Canada’s national statistics agency, Parks Canada.

And various private sectors to provide a detailed analysis of customer profiles, revenue visitation, and the overall impact of tourism across approximately 4,000 Canadian communities. “This data collective is more than just numbers. It’s a strategic tool that will empower local and national government decisions, ensuring tourism contributes positively to every community,” Walden explained.

Under Marsha Walden’s stewardship, Destination Canada is not merely navigating the post-pandemic world but actively reshaping the nation’s tourism landscape. With innovative strategies like the International Convention Attraction Fund and a major focus on the 2026 FIFA World Cup, Canada is poised to enhance its reputation as a premier global destination. As these plans unfold, the expected economic and cultural benefits could set a new benchmark for tourism development worldwide.