Overnight visits to Manitoba this year will increase at more than double the pace of 2011, with overseas tourists leading the charge, a new forecast from the Conference Board of Canada says.
In its Spring 2012 Travel Markets Outlook issued Wednesday, the Ottawa think-tank predicts 3.5 million tourists will visit the province this year.
That would be an increase of 2.6 per cent from the estimated 3.4 million who came here last year, which was a 1.2 per cent improvement from 2010.
The board also predicts Manitoba and Canada will both see a 3.8 per cent increase in tourism spending this year.
But in both cases, the gains will be below 2011's estimated increases, it said, blaming the difference in part on limited gains in Canadians' discretionary income.
For Manitoba, the board predicts the biggest gain in tourist traffic will be in overseas visitors. It's expecting that to increase by 3.4 per cent to 67,000, fuelled by growing demand from China and Australia.
Greg Hermus, an associate director with the board, and Linda Whitfield, vice-president of sales and marketing for Travel Manitoba, said Manitoba and the rest of Canada are beginning to reap the benefits of the Chinese government declaring Canada an approved destination for its citizens to visit.
Hermus said that alone is expected to account for about one-third of this year's projected 18 per cent increase in Chinese visitors to Canada.
He attributed the anticipated increase in Australian visitors to the strength of the Australian dollar and the Australian economy, which are helping to make overseas trips more affordable.
Frontiers North Adventures, a Winnipeg firm offering all-inclusive group tours to Churchill to see beluga whales in the summer and polar bears in the late fall, is one of the local tour operators already seeing an increase in bookings from Down Under.
"With Australia, we're seeing a marked increase this year, whereas in other markets, it's more a mild uptick," general manager John Gunter said.
For competitive reasons, Gunter declined to reveal the increase in Australian bookings.
But he said it's now Frontiers North's fifth-biggest market behind the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada, accounting for about 10 per cent of revenues.
He said Frontiers North also has aggressively marketed its packages there for eight or nine years -- and that's starting to pay dividends.
The firm hopes the same thing is about to happen with China, where it has been marketing since 2009.
"We've seen a bit of business... but not a lot," Gunter said. "But we envision it as a market that has potential for us."
While the United States remains Manitoba's largest international market, Hermus and Whitfield said a variety of factors have set back U.S. tourism in recent years.
They include a weak U.S. economic recovery, more stringent passport requirements, and a push to get more U.S. residents to spend their tourist dollars in their home country.
But Whitfield said Manitoba still has considerable success at attracting other Canadians to the province, particularly from Northwestern Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Hermus said while high gas prices curbed interprovincial tourist travel last year, recent surveys indicate it won't be as big a deal this year.
"Canadians seem to be getting a little more used to higher gas prices," he said, noting the board foresees a 2.7 per cent increase in domestic visitors to Manitoba this year, versus a 1.5 per cent gain in 2011.
Forecast for annual overnight visits in Manitoba (000s, with percentage change in brackets):
Type of visitors 2011e* 2012f** 2013f 2014f 2015 2016f
Total visitors3,429 (1.2) 3,518 (2.6) 3,606 (2.5) 3,712 (2.9) 3,813 (2.7) 3,904 (2.4)
Domestic 3,157 (1.5) 3,243 (2.7) 3,326 (2.6) 3,427 (3.0) 3,521 (2.7) 3,607 (2.4)
U.S. 208 (-3.0) 209 (0.5) 210 (0.7)212 (1.0) 216 (1.6) 218 (1.0)
Overseas65 (1.0) 67 (3.4) 70 (4.2)73 (4.3) 76 (4.1) 79 (4.1)
Total expenditures ($ millions, percentage change in brackets)
1,032 (6.0)1,072 (3.8)1,123 (4.7)1,184 (5.5)1,245 (5.2)1,305 (4.8)
-- source: Conference Board of Canada