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Travel Manitoba not considering risks like climate change that could affect tourism: Auditor General

Frontiers North Adventures, along with Polar Bears International explore.org, have set up a roving camera that follows the polar bears along the Hudson.
Frontiers North Adventures, along with Polar Bears International explore.org, have set up a roving camera that follows the polar bears along the Hudson. Jonathan Hayward / The Canadian Press / File

The province’s auditor general says Travel Manitoba is not fully considering risks that could have an impact on the province’s tourism industry, like climate change.

In his report to the Legislative Assembly Thursday, titled Management of Provincial Tourism, Auditor General Norm Ricard said Travel Manitoba has made great strides since taking over all of the province’s tourism marketing responsibilities in 2017, but some things need improvement.

READ MORE: Polar bear live cam offers a glimpse at Churchill migration

“In 2019, Travel Manitoba issued the Provincial Tourism Strategy. … Having a broad strategic plan is an important milestone but equally important is the need for detailed plans on how strategies will be implemented, how stakeholders will be engaged, and how risks will be mitigated,” he wrote.

“More work needs to be done in this regard.”

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The identification and considerations of risk is an important part of planning, he said, but he found “risks that could affect tourism were not fully considered” and none of the strategic plans the corporation has published included related risks.

Ricard gave Churchill as an example.

“Churchill is one of the main drivers of tourism to Manitoba. … The loss of the polar bears’ environment due to climate change would have a significant impact on tourism. Yet, the plan identifies climate change as a low risk to tourism.”

Travel Manitoba President Colin Ferguson told 680 CJOB that despite increased awareness of the issue, the organization doesn’t expect polar bear or beluga whale populations to be affected over the next three years.

“I am not a climate change expert… (but) anecdotally, what we hear from the industry and what we here from operators is that the polar bear population up in Churchill seems to be healthy, it seems to be holding its own,” said Ferguson.

Ferguson added Churchill’s share of both spending and revenue is less than Travel Manitoba’s marketing would suggest, as the northern community has become a fixture of the “Canada’s Heart Beats” brand over the past few years.

READ MORE: First train rolls into Churchill after a long anticipated wait

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Other considerations Travel Manitoba needs to identify include consulting more government departments while they’re developing strategies, continuing to develop two niche tourism strategies (Francophone tourism and winter experiences), more detailed implementation plans and making sure resources are in place to support their strategies.

Ricard also chided Travel Manitoba for lack of timely data, but the corporation pointed out their hands are tied as it takes two years to get the data from Statistics Canada.

“They are exploring alternative data sources in order to obtain timelier information. They indicated that it is also possible to obtain additional data from the Statistics Canada information. However, they noted that both of these options are costly,” he wrote.

Click to play video 'Climate change could have an up-side for northern Manitoba' Climate change could have an up-side for northern Manitoba
Climate change could have an up-side for northern Manitoba – Nov 2, 2018

Public reporting on plans was also something Ricard noted.

“Reporting and public documentation should be easily locatable to the public without extensive searching,” he wrote, but their reports are found under a tab marked ‘Industry Resources’ on their Tourism Industry web page, which is buried several pages off the main site.

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In the end, Ricard made four recommendations:

Recommendation 1

  • We recommend that Travel Manitoba conduct a risk assessment for all tourism strategies, including short, medium and long-term risks, and identify measures to mitigate significant risks.

Recommendation 2

  • We recommend that Travel Manitoba identify:
    • existing resources;funding required and its sources;
    • staff requirements; and
    • which other stakeholders are required to support the initiatives identified by the strategies

Recommendation 3

  • We recommend that Travel Manitoba issue separate progress reports on the Strategies, which would include what other parties involved in implementing the initiatives have achieved.

Recommendation 4

  • We recommend that Travel Manitoba ensure that monitoring and reporting information is easily locatable and publicly accessible.

Ferguson said Travel Manitoba is looking to build on the report’s constructive criticism.

“We knew we weren’t perfect going in. Nobody is. Quite frankly, some of the recommendations that they put forward – even during the process of the audit – we’ve already implemented,” he said.

“So we’ve looked at a lot of this and said, ‘you know, we can be better’.”

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