There was a feeling of momentum in the room at the Manitoba Tourism Summit held January 12 at the Canad Inns Club Regent. As a video of Manitoba ambassadors closed with local radio personality Ace Burpee telling the 200 tourism leaders in the room to "Be loud. Be proud. It's our time," participants were eager to lay the groundwork for a provincial tourism growth strategy.

The government's recent announcement of a sustainable funding model for tourism marketing made it clear that a strategy to shape the industry's growth is needed. The summit hosted by the Government of Manitoba, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, and Travel Manitoba allowed members of the industry to lend their voice to the strategy.

"It takes champions to lead this industry and you all can be champions in your own sector," the Honourable Ron Lemieux, the Minister of Tourism, Culture, Heritage, Sport and Consumer Protection told participants. "This day is the first step forward in a great future for tourism."

Chuck Davidson, the President and CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, which championed the call for sustainable tourism marketing investment, outlined the importance of such funding, calling it critical to Manitoba's tourism industry.

"We have the trifecta for tourism success – product, messaging and increased funding to market the message, which will result in more visitors and more dollars being spent in our province," he said.

Gail McDonald, Manager of Interlake Tourism Association, echoed the sense of potential surrounding the tourism industry: "Tourism is finally being recognized as a leader in industry in Manitoba, with growth rates exceeding or matching Manitoba's other key industries. This is so exciting! We have so much to offer visitors, the world is waiting - they just need to know about it and we need to be ready for them."

Participants at the summit completed an online destination assessment prior to the event, and those results provided the basis for discussion at the summit. Paul Ouimet is the Executive Consultant of InterVISTAS, which created DestinationNEXT, a global tourism study on the trends impacting destinations and destination marketing organizations (DMO). Paul outlined the results of Manitoba's destination assessment before leading the participants through a series of questions touching on a variety of areas impacting tourism.

"There was a lot of community consensus, which was a positive finding," explained Paul of the results of the Manitoba's destination assessment. In the DestinationNEXT model, Manitoba ranked as a "Mountaineer", a destination which has a very positive assessment for destination strength (strong products), but with a slightly below average score for community engagement.

"The destination assessment of Mountaineer assigned to Manitoba was right on target - we have a strong growing brand but lack the resources to continuously build market ready rural and community based products," said Gail.  "Now is the time to move forward, to gain from the momentum that has been building over the last several years."

Working in small groups, participants were asked what they considered the top three most important issues to be addressed in the next five years, and then groups were each assigned questions that dealt with raising community support, digital marketing, product development, gaps in the workforce, and collaboration amongst organizations supporting tourism.

While InterVISTAS is compiling a report on what was shared at the summit, here are a few comments shared that touch on the many issues covered during the day-long planning session:

"Municipalities need to understand that tourism is a long term investment."

"We need brand ambassadors outside our own industry."

"There is a lack of information in schools about jobs in tourism. Youth in Manitoba aren't looking at tourism jobs at home."

"We need to close the divide between city and rural and sport and culture."

The complete report from the Manitoba Tourism Summit will be available online in February, 2016.