In Our Words: Four ways to ease access for tourists

I’ve been encouraged by how intense the discussions around Flin Flon tourism have been lately. That being said, I think there are some key things that have been overlooked, especially how to make Flin Flon more accessible to outside eyes.

It isn’t the easiest thing to convince somebody to come here, especially in winter. Long drives through wide swaths of trees and rock with almost no civilization aside from the odd small gas station – that’s not exactly the kind of thing good travelogues are made of.

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Imagine you’re from a major western Canadian city and you want to come to Flin Flon.

Observing all the local speed limits, it’s 11 hours from Edmonton and a 13-hour drive from Calgary. Saskatoon is between six and seven hours away, while Winnipeg can be as much as 10 if the weather is bad.

There have been several improvements to both highways in recent years, but both still feature long stretches of nothing but pavement and bush. God forbid something goes wrong with your vehicle along either road, since cell service is spotty at best.

Barring the invention of teleportation, there aren’t many options that aren’t at least a little arduous. The distance means that, for most tourists, flying is the most convenient option. Except for one thing – taking flights to northern locales can be prohibitively expensive.

Want to see what I mean? Take a look at this.

For normal air travel, there is only one game in town – Flin Flon and Winnipeg, flown by Calm Air. Let’s say, as a hypothetical, you want to fly to Flin Flon on Feb. 6, spend a week in town and fly back to Winnipeg a week later. One adult ticket, round trip. As of last week, that trip will set you back just a hair over $1,200.

That’s just on airfare alone. That’s a lot for a pair of two- or three-hour flights.

In fact, during the same time frame (Feb. 6 to Feb. 13), a pair of Air Canada flights from Winnipeg to Maui and back again would set you back exactly $672.23. I checked.

So for the cost of travelling Flin Flon-Winnipeg-Flin Flon, you can fly to a snowless place with surfing, luaus and palm trees, and keep more than $500 in your pocket – enough to buy plenty of fancy umbrella drinks.

If we want to get serious about tourism, there are some steps that need to be looked at now. They all have to do with increasing access to our community.

First, boost cell service along those northern highways. The isolation factor will not change, but having that safety net – even just being able to call for help – could keep potential visitors from being scared off.

We need to ensure that MTS, SaskTel, both provinces and the federal government know how important that is and that it must be fixed.

And while you’re at it, do something about our internet, would you? Pretty please? It’s slower than Lent.

Second, expand air service and flight options. Adding flights to Flin Flon, even only once or twice a week, to regional hubs like Saskatoon or other northern tourist hotspots like Churchill could be an economic boon, not only for Flin Flon, but for northern Manitoba as a whole.

Third, use the tourism brand we have. It was released back in September to much fanfare, but hasn’t really showed up anywhere since. While I understand expecting a wide rollout immediately isn’t reasonable and that the brand wouldn’t see its main use within Flin Flon anyway, this thing needs widespread usage.

Finally, my fourth point, and perhaps the biggest: Make sure the south knows we exist. We need to be persistent in marketing to everybody in the cities down south. Winnipeggers aren’t going to acknowledge us unless they realize there’s something good up here.

Let them know that our fishing is better than theirs, that our snowmobiling is better than theirs, our arts scene is better than theirs, and hell, even our hockey team is better than theirs. They should come up for a bit, just to see how nice it is.

We have something lovely in Flin Flon and we need to promote it, but making it easier for outsiders to get here is of greatest importance.

After all, if Shangri-La is in the forest and there’s nobody around to see it, is it really even there?

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