Tourism strategy to play to the North's strengths

The Manitoba government has released its plan to rekindle northern tourism.

The Northern Manitoba Tourism Strategy was released on Dec. 8, pledging to increase spending on northern tourism by $35 million over the next five years.

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That sum will go toward five priorities outlined in the strategy, each having to do with promoting tourism and tourism management.

“I feel really optimistic. The steering committee had a meeting on Friday to talk about the next step forward,” said Becky Cianflone, general manager of Community Futures Greenstone and the lone Flin Flon-based member of the strategy’s 16-person steering committee.

“It’s easy to put together a strategy and just let it sit on a shelf, so we are already taking those next steps and working on action items.”

The strategy, compiled by Tourism Manitoba, hopes to capitalize on what has always been the north’s strongest travel calling card – the great outdoors. Hunting, fishing and the region’s unique flora and fauna are mentioned as positives for the north moving forward.

While unique natural sights, sounds and experiences appear to be the region’s calling card, the report recognizes there’s more to the north than polar bears and northern lights.

In addition, campgrounds, parks, museums and community events, like Flin Flon’s Culture Days and Trout Festival, are all described as assets.

The strategy centres tourism efforts on three main areas, according to Cianflone.

“We see those as being full-service areas that we can attract visitors to. Those are Thompson, Churchill and what we’re calling Northwest Country, which is Flin Flon, The Pas and Snow Lake.”

“In identifying those three areas, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the north is secondary or left out of the strategy. It means we’ve recognized that there is capacity in those communities right now.”

Plans for the strategy range from reorganizing Tourism North, establishing area tourism plans for Thompson, Churchill and northwest Manitoba, encouraging training for employees of tourism hotspots, and promoting Indigenous tourism. Also included are plans to enhance air, road and rail infrastructure, tourism marketing and signage.

As part of the new strategy, Tourism Manitoba has created a new regional advisory committee to aid the growth of northern Manitoba tourism. Cianflone will serve on the committee, adding that the next step will involve close involvement with Travel Manitoba’s ongoing northern branding initiative.

“The next steps are going to be building an inventory for each of those destination areas, determining what they have for a product and determining how we can best market that. This is going to work very closely with the place branding strategy with Travel Manitoba.”

The task of carrying out the operation’s findings will be split between several groups, including Tourism Manitoba, Parks Canada, municipal, provincial and federal governments, entrepreneurs, business owners and the regional advisory committee.

Some of the ideas mentioned could bring more development and visitors to remote areas with less developed tourism infrastructure.

“We’re also looking at other opportunities – for example, York Factory. We believe there’s an awesome opportunity to get people in to see a great Canadian historic site that was built in the 1700s,” said Cianflone.

“It’s a very particular traveller and a very specific demographic. We’re looking at developing Gillam as a jumping off point for an experience like that. Those communities are definitely in the plans for the long-term.”

Also included in the strategy report is a short profile of all 11 communities listed by Tourism Manitoba - including Flin Flon, Cranberry Portage, Snow Lake and others – describing each community’s history, attractions, focuses and services, as well as transportation and accommodations for tourists coming to the north. Detailed breakdowns of population, employment, economic activity and job growth for communities and census divisions is also provided.

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