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Olympics on the wish list of many travellers

VISA survey indicates increases in tourism spending in Canada

A survey of global travellers by VISA Inc found that a quarter of those questioned would love to attend the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler if they could.

And of those potential Games visitors most said they would visit other parts of Canada as well, with Whistler high on the list.

"...What you see in this figure of 25 per cent is an indication of both the appeal that the Olympics have (and) also the appeal that Canada has, and Whistler is definitely a part of that," said Paul Wilke, senior business leader for VISA.

"In the survey we asked people where would they most likely visit in addition to Vancouver and almost a third of those people said Whistler was part of that."

While it is clear that not all those surveyed will follow through on their Olympic wish it does reflect the strong appeal Canada has a destination, said Wilke.

"Canada is recognized as a great place to go," he said, adding that it is recognized as not just a place where there are interesting things to do but also as a destination with broad appeal for natural sights and wildlife.

"People recognize that Canada is unique in what it offers," said Wilke.

The online Visa Tourism Outlook: Canada survey questioned more than 5,500 experienced international travelers from 11 countries between Dec.11, 2008 and Jan. 8, 2009.

The report notes that in the year ahead the Games offer an opportunity "for tourism providers and government authorities to support marketing efforts to convert this interest and intended travel into actual visits in 2010."

International respondents reporting the strongest likelihood of attending the Vancouver Games originated from Brazil (57 percent), China (52 percent) and Mexico (34 percent).

It noted that on the first day of the 2008 Beijing Summer Games that US$10 million was spent by VISA shoppers visiting for the event.

The survey found that roughly half of respondents were aware of Canada as the Host Country of the 2010 Games.

Countries close to Beijing showed the highest awareness of Vancouver hosting the Games, with Japan (60 per cent) leading the group. The countries with the lowest awareness were Australia (29 per cent) and the United Kingdom (30 per cent) - an interesting fact considering London is hosting the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Tourism Whistler's director of marketing services, Jodi Westbury, said the report did offer some surprises, including the low level of awareness in the United Kingdom.

"What it shows us is that there certainly is opportunity in place, like Britain in particular, to continue to get the message out because it would seem that it hasn't resonated there," she said.

"So I think the report did flag some opportunities both from the side of where we can do additional work and where we can leverage some knowledge that we didn't know was there."

According to the survey, 44 per cent of respondents say the last 12 months has not affected their willingness to travel abroad. And 23 per cent of international travellers are more willing to travel abroad compared to one year ago.

The biggest spenders per transaction in Canada were from Hong Kong (US$247) followed by Russia and Saudi Arabia.

And despite pressures on the global economy, international tourists in Canada spent US$300 million more with their Visa cards in 2008 than they did in 2007.

The survey found that international interest in visiting Canada in the future is high, with nearly three out of four survey respondents reporting they are likely to visit Canada in the future. The strongest interest comes from Mexico, the U.S., China and Japan, and from those who have visited Canada before.

On average, respondents plan to take three cross-border trips in the next two years. Overwhelmingly, these are pleasure trips - 89 per cent cited leisure as the purpose of travel.

While interest remains strong, travellers are not immune to economic realities. When asked what might make them less willing to travel internationally in the next two years, top factors included: cost of travel (52 per cent); decrease in disposable income (43 pre cent) and unfavorable currency exchange rate (39 per cent).

The majority (83 per cent) of international travellers are modifying their plans in response to the economic environment. Here's how they plan to do so:

• Travelling during the off-peak season for lower prices (52 per cent)

• Travelling to countries where the cost of visiting is less (33 per cent)

• Travelling to countries where the exchange rate is more favorable (29 per cent)

• Travelling closer to home (27 per cent)

Most popular destinations for the next two years among international travellers: US, France, Italy, Spain, UK, Canada.

The survey is part of Visa's Tourism Outlook reports, a series of reports that combine the international survey insights with actual Visa card spending for 2008 and 2007. Visa introduced Tourism Outlook: Canada last week and plans to release a U.S. report later this spring.