Mr. Speaker, interpretation is certainly a very important issue, as is tourism in Quebec.
The tourism industry is crucial to Quebec's regional economies. It employs over 400,000 workers and contributes $15 billion to the Quebec economy. More than two-thirds of these businesses are located outside the greater Quebec City and Montreal areas, and most of them are very small businesses that are agile and innovative, but still fragile. This industry has been one of the hardest hit by the public health crisis, and it is still waiting for the government to show more empathy and a greater desire to collaborate, because times will be tough for several years to come.
To overcome this enormous challenge, the tourism industry will need the hard work and talent of everyone involved. That is why I prefer to talk about “tourism with a promising future”. It is also why I would like to talk to Marsha Walden, President and CEO of Destination Canada, the Canadian tourism commission, about solutions that people in the industry have shared with me in recent months. We need to make the most of this evening's debate by talking about solutions and how we can restructure the tourism ecosystem.
Before we increase the budget envelopes for the promotion of tourism, we should invest heavily in the restructuring of the tourism ecosystem. I will explain.
In the current public health context, travellers are looking for alternative tourism destinations because people do not want to go to major cities where there is a higher risk of COVID-19. That is understandable. Major cities are not popular because people want to enjoy themselves in the great outdoors. Therefore, the tourism industry must adapt its offerings and make smart investments even in smaller tourism areas.
For example, in 2020, my region of Abitibi-Témiscamingue experienced a tourism boost despite the public health context, and it was a good year for tourism given the circumstances. Quebeckers travelled more than seven hours from Montreal to visit the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region. In September, festival-goers stayed in Abitibi-Témiscamingue for the Emerging Music Festival, which I attended with my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé, among others. The Abitibi-Témiscamingue International Film Festival was held in October.
In the midst of a health crisis, the people of Abitibi-Témiscamingue were able to put on two major events without any problems or any impact on the spread of the virus.
What is more, this winter, snowmobilers have been coming from all over to ride the extensive network of trails criss-crossing the immense territory of Abitibi-Témiscamingue. There are 3,600 kilometres of snowmobile trails, for those who are interested. My region is so large and attractive and has so many wide open spaces that it would take a visitor weeks to explore all of our snowmobile, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails and our vast expanses of frozen lakes in winter, just like it would take weeks for them to roam all the walking trails, the two national parks and the rivers in summer.
The tourism offerings need to be different. This year, potentially, and in the coming years, tourism in Abitibi-Témiscamingue will slowly pick up again, and people will come from all over to discover the region's tourism offerings. They will visit museums, wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, villages and outfitters. They will go to rodeos and truck rodeos and attend large outdoor concerts. The people of Abitibi-Témiscamingue are known for their enthusiasm, whether it is -30°C in January and February or 30°C in July and August.
In addition, Quebec is a true natural wonder, known for the beauty of its land and the St. Lawrence River. Quebeckers and travellers from all over the world come to walk the streets of Old Quebec and experience the vibrancy of downtown Montreal. Visitors travel along the St. Lawrence River to go whale watching and visit the picturesque little villages along its shores, often known for their local products and microbreweries. Visitors travel through the vast wilderness of the boreal forest, stay at outfitters, take part in ice fishing tournaments or sled dog races, and the list goes on.
Quebec is a popular adventure tourism destination, so I hope we can enhance our tourism offerings. Why not invest heavily in regional structures that will put money in the right areas, specifically to meet local needs, based on each local reality?
I appeal to the president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Tourism Commission in that regard. Tourism development officers help entrepreneurs, municipalities and organizations adapt and enhance their tourism offerings, which must be thoughtfully prepared. It is important to rebuild locally, since tourists will flock back to us in a few years. Preparations are in the works, and I hope Ms. Walden will provide the necessary financial resources, without conditions, to maximize the potential of the tourism industry in the regions.
When tourism in Quebec and the rest of Canada gets back to full strength in the coming years, I hope the federal government will have given the industry a jump-start and the means to rebuild. It is certainly no small task. Rebuilding is a tremendous challenge. For example, there needs to be support for agri-tourism, investment in structures for tourism to extend to the farms, directly at the farm, in facilities, among the animals, to host activities on site and taste products from the farm.
Why not try something new at public markets so that people can discover quality local products, much like the gourmet fair, the Foire gourmande de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue et du Nord-Est ontarien, has done? Why not try something new to bring tourism to the mountains, forests and waterways, to ensure environmentally responsible protection of the natural environment? Why not try something new to have tourism help protect the heritage buildings of our tourist sites, such as the churches and our beautiful old Quebec and Canadian homes?
We must build a solid tourism ecosystem that will help people develop their talents, protect our heritage and make use of natural environments. We need to reimagine the tourism industry. Until this industry gets back on its feet, we need to be creative and think outside the box. The focus should be on the well-being of travellers and on providing effective support for these travellers and for the businesses and organizations in these tourism ecosystems.
We cannot leave travellers to fend for themselves. We should be giving them a memorable human experience. Let us make tourism a more humanistic way of life, for both travellers and workers. Let us make it more innovative, more environmentally friendly, and more attuned to the land, heritage and people who live there. If we are going to achieve this, we must reimagine tourism and transition from competition to collaboration. We need to review the necessary investments, not just in terms of budget amounts, but also in terms of how things are done. People should be able to work with others and not against others, to develop innovative, creative projects.
I would like to suggest some approaches. First, bigger budgets so that people on the ground, many of them passionate individuals who actually live in the areas that need a boost, can invest in specialized resources. The government should also help people who have built businesses pass the baton to other passionate individuals. We need to help the tourism industry adapt to this reality by creating new programs that give stakeholders something to build on, and that means investing in those programs. Young people who want to call these places home, embrace healthy lifestyles and provide an exceptional quality of life can leverage a region's assets to spur economic development.
Let us make sure that people working in the tourism industry are proud to help capitalize on what their region and its natural beauty have to offer. We need attractive ad and promotional video campaigns, but we also have to promote the people working in the industry. Investing in human talent is key to the success of our tourism businesses.
In closing, the tourism industry will remain in limbo for many more difficult months. It is going to experience a labour shortage. We have to be aware of that. The whole structure is broken, and the parts need to be rebuilt. If nothing changes, many competent workers will leave the tourism industry for other sectors.