Tourism down as Canadian embassy strike stretches on

As workers at Canadian embassies around the world continue striking, tourism operators in Calgary say the service delays are costing millions of dollars in lost tourism revenue.

More than 1,000 foreign service workers — who process visitor visas — have been off the job for three months in a pay dispute. They say they are being paid less than people in Canada who are doing the same work.

Now, the strike is causing a massive backlog of applications and some tour operators say they're seeing clients cancel trips to Canada.

"People just cannot come to Canada," said Philip Bender, who owns a Calgary travel agency. "I have a lot of people wanting to come here to visit family. This type of situation, everybody right now is sitting in limbo because their passports are all sitting in the embassies. They cannot go anywhere else."

While people used to wait a month or two for their visas, Bender says that now, they are just waiting indefinitely.

The Tourism Industry Association of Canada estimates the strike will cost the country $280-million and is calling for back-to-work legislation.

It's not just people coming to Canada who are being affected.

Foreign students wanting to visit home are stuck waiting in Canada for their student visas to be renewed.

"My family all feel very stressed out," said Qiang Tang, a Chinese student studying for her Master's degree at the University of Alberta. "We already planned our trip and we bought tickets and other travel plans already."

Given the growing role Asian tourists, many of whom require visas to visit Canada, play in the country's travel economy, those in the tourism industry say they want to see the government take action to protect businesses.

"When Air Canada was going on strike, for example, the government stepped in," said Bender.

But even if the strike is resolved soon, the backlog could still affect travel to Canada for a long time to come.

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