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Sask. wildfires putting lodges out of business: association

Watch above: As wildfires continue to burn out of control in Saskatchewan’s north, business operators are feeling the heat. Amber Rockliffe finds out how outfitters, reliant not only on customers but northern roadways, are managing.

SASKATOON – Dozens of outfitters near La Ronge are struggling to stay financially afloat, according to the Saskatchewan Outfitters Association, as wildfires ward off their customers. Every year, people fork out thousands of dollars for fishing and hunting excursions in remote locations.

“We certainly are a big part of tourism. Our industry alone generates well over $100 million to the province every year,” explained the association’s president, Harvey Kroll.

Kroll said this summer many of the tourism packages will have to be refunded.

“These guys have hired a lot of people to work for them. They’re using airlines, hotels, and restaurants, and so the effect is not just for that individual outfitter. It’s huge,” he explained.

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With no end to the wildfires in sight, Kroll said the province’s tourism industry will take a big hit.

“As long as I’ve been in the industry—and that’s going on 25 years—we’ve never seen anything this huge, that’s for sure,” Kroll explained.

“It’s devastating. I mean it’s not only for this year, but you sometimes wonder what the effects of it are going to be for the next upcoming season.”

Saskatchewan Tourism spokesperson Jonathan Potts said at this point, the agency’s number one priority is public safety.

“The final outcome won’t be determined until probably the end of the season, when everyone has a chance to really tally things up,” Potts explained.

“We will be looking at ways to support them (outfitters) going forward to make sure both their long-term customers and potentially new clientele are aware that Saskatchewan will be open for business again next year,” explained Potts.

The association said it plans to meet with Tourism Saskatchewan and the province in the fall to discuss the situation, with the hope of curbing the financial hit to outfitters.