In the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) is awakened in the middle of the night by a voice that tells him “If you build it he will come.”
What Kinsella ends up building is a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield, which provides a playing field for the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven other Chicago White Sox players banned from baseball for throwing the 1919 World Series. At the end of the movie, with the Kinsella family on the verge of bankruptcy, the headlights of hundreds of cars appears on the horizon with tourists prepared to pay to visit the field.
The reality of the ever-competitive tourism industry is that simply building a tourism destination does not typically result in such immediate success and increased tourism revenues.
Manitoba has some tremendous assets when it comes to tourism destinations and experiences, such as the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Assiniboine Park Zoo, Lower Fort Garry, the Winnipeg Folk Festival, Dauphin’s Countryfest, polar bears and beluga whales in Churchill, the Winnipeg Jets, Blue Bombers and the Goldeyes.
Tourism touches every part of the province and remains one of the biggest drivers of the economy, responsible for more than $1.52 billion in expenditures and $596 million in export revenues annually.
In addition, over 25,000 jobs in Manitoba are tied, directly or indirectly, to our tourism industry and close to $250 million are generated in provincial tax revenue annually.
Despite representing over three per cent of our provincial Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Travel Manitoba, the lead organization for marketing and developing the Manitoba tourism industry, receives only $7.5 million in funding per year from the provincial government – a dollar figure which has not changed in the past decade.
This lack of investment ranks Manitoba near the bottom for tourism investment compared to other provincial jurisdictions. The government of Saskatchewan currently invests $15 million annually in tourism while both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick each spend $13 million to attract tourists to their provinces.
The competition to attract visitors is fierce. You only have to look at what provinces like Newfoundland, Alberta, and PEI are doing to attract tourists. The longer Manitoba’s tourism industry waits for significant and sustained investment, the further we fall behind other provinces competing for the same tourist dollars.
The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, on behalf of our members and tourism stakeholders as a whole, is calling on Premier Selinger and the government to work with industry stakeholders to implement the 96/4 sustainable tourism investment model that was developed by Travel Manitoba and approved by their Board of Directors.
The model proposes that the provincial government increase its investment in marketing programs by dedicating four per cent of provincial tourism tax revenues to fund Travel Manitoba. With the provincial government currently receiving $250 million in tax revenues, using the 96/4 model they would keep $240 million and Travel Manitoba would receive $10 million to market Manitoba tourism products.
Plan 96/4 has the potential to increase annual tourism expenditures by over 35 per cent to $2.1 billion and to deliver $288 million in new money to the province as well as an additional $46 million in tax revenue to the province.
In Manitoba we have world-class tourism products and thanks to the successful “Manitoba…Canada’s Heart Beats” campaign we have a strong brand associated with those products. But it’s quite simple: without sustainable investment to provide the tourism sector with the marketing tools it requires, very few outside of Manitoba will even know they exist.
Manitoba can no longer take the “Field of Dreams” approach when it comes to tourism and assume that if you build it, they will come. It is time we focus our attention on marketing to travelers across the globe so that they can begin sharing in the Manitoba travel experience.
President and CEO
Manitoba Chambers of Commerce