Welcoming international tourists

Michigan’s focus on the Canadian market.

With the rising emphasis on the attraction of international visitors to the US and to Michigan, in particular from rapidly industrializing nations such as China, India and Brazil, we should not overlook our much nearer neighbor to the east and north.

Canadians are avid international travelers, spending $33 billion (US) on outbound international travel in 2011; the citizens of only five nations (Germany, the US, China, the UK and France) spent more on foreign travel in that same year according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, 2012. Canada is by far the US’s largest inbound international market: in 2012, 22.7 million Canadians visited the US, representing nearly 34 percent of all inbound visitation, compared to 14.5 million Mexicans and 3.8 million citizens of the UK. This is the largest overseas source of US travelers according to the US Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration, Manufacturing and Services, Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, 2013a. Canadian visitation to the US is set to increase by a compounded annual growth rate of 3.5 percent between 2012 and 2018, a rate that though lower than those projected for emerging outbound markets such as China (21.9 percent), Brazil (8.8 percent) and Argentina (8.7 percent), exceeds those of Mexico and the UK (both at 2.3 percent). Michigan is a popular US destination for Canadians, consistently ranking within the top five most visited states. In 2011, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), 2013 states that 1.54 million Canadian visitors to Michigan spent $441 million dollars.

Despite the magnitude of this adjacent market, Travel Michigan has had a minimal presence in Canada to date, spending approximately $600,000 of its $25 million marketing budget in southern Ontario in 2012. However, with the recent authorization of an additional $4 million in funding for Pure Michigan in 2013-14, this will change. Approximately one half of these additional monies will be devoted to the Ontario market, with a special emphasis on Toronto. Toronto is an especially attractive, though expensive, market; in comparison to Chicago, Toronto has a slightly larger population (3.8 million in comparison to 3.5 million) and a greater proportion of higher income households (33 percent of Toronto households earn more than $100,000 per annum, in comparison to 26 percent in Chicago) (MEDC, 2013). Given its location, the Toronto/Ontario market offers special opportunities for the eastern side of the state.

Michigan’s eastern shoreline is a large draw for Ontario visitors. According to the Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County (2013), “upwards of nearly 750,000 tourists visit annually and dining in local establishments is second to shopping in the area for international visitors”. Our international neighbors make frequent day trips to Michigan’s counties with popular retail districts and services in various coastal communities, especially since Canadians were granted duty free shopping exemptions as of June 2012. Sponsored by Travel Michigan, Discover the Blue provides a well-rounded introduction to the number of attractions being leveraged to attract international visitors.

Placing Pure Michigan marketing into the Toronto region will assist with achievement of several of the 2012-2017 Michigan Tourism Strategic Plan’s objectives with respect to promotion, marketing and communications, in particular those items related to increasing the Pure Michigan campaign’s presence in international markets, and increasing Canadian visitation to Michigan from 1.54 million in 2011 to 2.15 million by 2017.

For more information about the 2012-2017 Michigan Tourism Strategic Plan, please contact MSU faculty member Dr. Sarah Nicholls, Departments of Community Sustainability (CSUS) and Geography, at nicho210@msu.edu. Michigan State University Extension has experts in tourism working throughout Michigan that can assist communities and counties in tourism development.

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