Growing an industry requires a bit of luck and a bit of outside-the-box thinking. With healthy doses of each, northern tourism can work beyond our best expectations. We need to embrace the things we already have, cultivating ways to make them better, while at the same time encouraging new ideas to come forward. There is untapped potential everywhere in the north. It’s time to tap it somehow.
One of the biggest of those untapped resources lies in the industry of adventure tourism. I haven’t heard anyone mention it in any of the tourism meetings and I’m stymied. There are real possibilities if we can use our own natural resources and culture as a draw for people to whom the things we’re familiar with are a curious novelty.
Some types of adventure tourism are not going to work. Accessible tourism, for example, isn’t going to work right now, especially in a city that has well over a dozen non-accessible businesses on its main drags. I’d also rule spiritual tourism out because we don’t appear to have any sacred religious sites around here (First Nations tradition regarding the sanctity of nature and traditional territory aside, of course).
Now that we know what won’t work, let’s go over what can.
Cultural tourism already works here on occasion, for major events like Culture Days, Trout Festival, Blueberry Jam, Homecoming and the like, for Bomber games and tournaments in different sports, for artistic programming at Johnny’s Social Club and NorVA and so on.
Providing ways for our ever-burgeoning arts community to grow and thrive seems like a good move. Not only would it attract visitors, it would make day-to-day life a little more fun for us townies. Boost Blueberry Jam. Expand the site or add more locations for shows. Seek out major sponsors from province-wide or nation-wide companies. Increase merch sales. Add in a Culture Days-type market for businesses big and small. Holding a big event involving our entire arts community already means centralizing our artists – why not use it as a chance to centralize businesses?
Overland travel is worth looking at. That form of travel has really taken off in areas with wide open spaces, ripe for long road trips - people who go across the Australian Outback for example, or all the Americans who drove Route 66 back in the day from sea to shining sea.
This can be done in Canada through the Trans Canada Highway, but we’re hundreds of kilometres north of that road. In previous columns, I’ve said an underrated part of improving tourism would be to improve cell service along our northern roads, so if someone blows a tire, they don’t have to worry about freezing to death before someone comes to help. However, those long drives can be an asset, not an issue. Just provide them with a lifeline for help, market accordingly and voila.
And finally, there’s one more idea that could be a real boon for the north. Extreme tourism: that is, providing a place for adrenaline junkies or chronic risk-takers to get their fix.
Set up a zipline going across Ross Lake, from Lookout Point all the way across to Flinty’s Boardwalk. Take a second, put this paper down (not for too long though), close your eyes and imagine that view. You just know that, if that was available, people would come to town for that. It would be a lot cheaper than building a brand new camping complex or other capital-heavy investment conventional tourism requires.
But why stop there? Allow people to BASE or bungee jump off the smoke stack. Why not? It’s not like it’s being used at the moment. For the past eight years, all the stack has been is a highly visible reminder of the boom times that have left us – why not flip that script and use it as a tourism and economic advantage?
Sell people on cliff jumping, long canoe trips through our unrivaled lakes and rivers, allow people to parasail, skydive, endurance hike, or rock climb. I’m not going to do all that and there’s a pretty good chance you won’t want to either, but some wingnut somewhere will want to – and their money is as good as anyone else’s.
People are literally paying good money right now to go through the infamous Green Zone in Baghdad and the irradiated zone at Chernobyl - you know, the place that had a nuclear meltdown in the ‘80s that killed dozens and made hundreds of square kilometres completely unlivable? What does an irradiated wasteland have that Flin Flon doesn’t? Near-constant excitement? Why not provide a guided tour through an abandoned mine site? That sounds sufficiently scary – and God knows, we’ve got a few places here that could fit that bill.
Emphasizing Flin Flon as a place off the beaten path makes sense, first because it can be cheaper and easier than any alternative and secondly, because we’re actually off the beaten path. Adventure tourism is at least worth a look as a way to keep this town going.
Otherwise, if no other ideas work, people may only come to Flin Flon for another form of adventure travel - disaster tourism.