Whether it’s two weeks, three weeks or, depending on how long you have worked at your current job, four or more weeks, your vacation is very important to you.  Imagine how important it is for our province, communities and people who depend on visitors from other parts of the country or the world.

The role tourism plays into our provincial economy may surprise you.  Based on 2011 tourism data from Statistics Canada the amount spent by visitors in Manitoba totaled more than $1.4 billion.  That makes up about 3.6 per cent of our total Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While we can document the data of how much is spent, what is hard to document is the impact tourists play for specialized operators in smaller, seasonal communities.

What may also surprise you and what is becoming alarmingly clear to those in the tourism industry is a continued decline in the amount of people visiting Canada.   Simply put, Canadian tourism numbers having been eroding over the past decade, dropping from 20.1 million visitors in 2002 to 16.3 million in 2012.  Canada’s international arrivals barely grew in 2012 while global international arrivals grew 4 per cent during the same period.  Canada is one of only five countries (Canada, Poland, Ireland, Tunisia and Brazil) to experience a drop in arrivals in the last 10 years and is one of only two with a double-digit decline (Canada -18%, Poland -22%).   Early numbers for 2013 show that trend continuing.  Earlier this week Statistics Canada numbers for June show another decrease in the amount of travelers coming into Canada.  The 2013 numbers are down for the fifth consecutive month.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, in their recent discussion paper – Restoring Canadian Tourism, point to a multitude of reasons for why tourism numbers have declined: increased travel and tourism competitiveness, outdated aviation policy and high costs associated with travel into Canada being the main reasons.  We have spent far too long defining the reasons why travel to Canada is suffering.  We know need to take the next steps to re-position the Canadian tourism sector, before we our numbers erode beyond repair.

To address the issue the Canadian Chamber of Commerce presents four recommendations to help kick start the industry:  Stronger marketing, address the cost competiveness issues, re-invest portions of collected visa administration fees into Canada’s visa processing capacity and implement the strategies of the federal governments tourism strategy, Welcoming the World.

While the Canadian Chamber is taking a country-wide approach, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce believes we also need to focus on helping create tourism resurgence here at home.  Since taking over as President and CEO of the Manitoba Chamber I have had the pleasure to speak with people in the tourism industry and hear their concerns and vision for the future.  One thing has become clear; a greater focus needs to be paid to the Manitoba tourism industry.  The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce believe tourism is a critical pillar that can grow and strengthen Manitoba and our economy.  Strong policy will help guide and prepare everyone involved to tackle the challenges that lay before the industry.

Our province is rich with beauty, things to see and undiscovered gems.  How the industry markets itself, and our province, will play a major role in future growth.  Those countries and markets that have proven successful in attracting tourists have done so through a combination of focused marketing campaign and strong support from stakeholders and the various levels of government.  The story is an old one, industry and government must be united.  Through conversation with industry and past conversation with government, I know there is common ground and a strong belief in what our province has to offer someone looking to spend their hard earned dollars.

For too long we have watched as tourism numbers have declined.  The time is now to correct the problems.  The industry and its impact on operators and the province’s bottom line are too important to ignore any longer.

Chuck Davidson

President & CEO

Manitoba Chambers of Commerce

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