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Setting sights on U.S. tourists

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Travel Manitoba President and CEO Colin Ferguson

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Tourism-industry officials want the federal government to go back to the future and start spending big bucks on luring American tourists north of the border again.

David Goldstein, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada told a tourism rally Thursday in Winnipeg there has been a 20 per cent drop in the last 12 years in the number of overnight visitors to Canada — 16 million last year versus 20 million in 2002.

And it’s estimated Americans account for 80 to 85 per cent of those four million lost tourists, he added.

Goldstein also noted that in that same 12-year period, Canada has plunged from 7th to 17th place in terms of the number of international arrivals per year. And while the global tourism industry enjoyed five per cent growth last year, Canada’s industry grew by a meagre 1.5 per cent.

He said the goal now is to get back into the top 10 and to match the global rate of growth. "And the only way to get to five per cent... is to get back into the U.S."

That’s why TIAC has asked the federal government to revive its U.S. marketing campaign, which was halted four years ago in favour of targeting tourists in overseas and emerging markets.

It’s proposing the government allocate $35 million a year for each of the next three years for the new marketing campaign, with matching dollars to come from other tourism-industry players such as TIAC and provincial tourism groups.

Goldstein said the time is right for such a campaign because U.S. passport ownership has more than doubled and more Americans are starting to travel abroad again.

"A lower Canadian dollar also doesn’t hurt."

He said he’s optimistic the federal government will come through with the money, and that optimism is shared by Travel Manitoba president and CEO Colin Ferguson, who was one of the MCs for Thursday’s rally.

"Are they going get the funds? I think they will," Ferguson said during a break in the daylong event. "The federal government is in a solid financial position right now and I think there is an opportunity for some additional investment spending."

Ferguson said Manitoba also could benefit big-time from a new federal marketing campaign south of the border. On top of its existing tourist attractions — things like polar-bear- and beluga-whale-watching tours, world-class hunting and fishing opportunities and a myriad of cultural and performing-arts events — it will be adding two more world-class attractions this year with the July 3 opening of the Assiniboine Park’s Journey to Churchill exhibit and the September opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

"Winnipeg and Manitoba are really on a roll... " he said.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

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