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Stay-at-home tourism a silver lining to pandemic restrictions, says Tourism Manitoba

A polar bear eats a piece of whale meat as it walks along the shore of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Man. .THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and Manitoba sees an increasing number of cases, the province is again restricting travel, limiting access to some northern Manitoba communities.

Although the Northern Health Region doesn’t currently have any active cases, concern over the growing number of cases in southern Manitoba has led public health officials to reintroduce restricted travel to the north as of Friday, with the goal of keeping the virus from entering more isolated northern communities.
Churchill, Man., known as the “polar bear capital of the world”, has already seen big tourism impacts from the restrictions around travel during the pandemic- — and the town’s mayor says Churchill might not host many tourists for polar bear season this fall.

Read more: In-province tourism key to Manitoba success during pandemic: Destination Canada

According to the province’s chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, people can still travel to Churchill — as long as they have no symptoms, limit use of local services, and travel as directly as possible — but mayor Michael Spence said it may be too late for some of the community’s tour operators.

“Naturally, the community as a whole is concerned about COVID, as I think we all are,” Spence told 680 CJOB.

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“We know that some operators are in fact telling their clientele, ‘let’s just pause and let’s book for 2021.'”

While Churchill is missing out on important tourism dollars from out-of-province and, especially, out-of-country visitors, Spence said a silver lining during the coronavirus crisis has been an influx of visitors from elsewhere in Manitoba.

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“Travel Manitoba and the operators here locally got together and did an excellent job of marketing, attracting Manitobans into our community. It was nice to see Manitobans visiting the top of the province.”
Travel Manitoba’s Colin Ferguson acknowledged the pandemic has been a difficult time for some of the northern communities, like Churchill, which rely on international tourists. Like Spence, however, he sees a positive in Manitobans taking the opportunity to explore their own province.
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“It’s been really tough for them,” said Ferguson. “Most of their clientele is international — a large percentage of them coming from the U.S. market, but a lot coming out of Europe, and that has been traditional for many, many years.
“So this year, with everyone having limited access to other opportunities, Manitobans are now picking up the mantle.”
Ferguson said while Travel Manitoba doesn’t have concrete numbers yet, anecdotal evidence shows that some Manitoba communities — areas like Clear Lake, the Whiteshell and Hecla Island — have thrived during the pandemic, bringing out scores of ‘backyard tourists’ from Winnipeg and elsewhere in the province.
“People are exploring their own backyards. We’re hearing anecdotally that it’s the best June, best July and best August ever (for some communities).
“Their numbers have been really good — 100-per cent occupancy in some cases. I know that in some communities there have been some cancellations, but their numbers are still up.”
Ferguson said he expects the trend of Manitoba vacations to continue, especially with the pandemic showing no sign of slowing for the foreseeable future.
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“I don’t think a whole lot’s going to change over the next little while so people are still going to be looking for things to do, so I don’t think they’re going to get the chance to get away to some of the warmer summer climates they used to do,” he said.
“The opportunity to get out and enjoy the province still exists.”
Click to play video: 'Manitoba’s tourism industry grappling with enormous losses due to COVID-19' Manitoba’s tourism industry grappling with enormous losses due to COVID-19
Manitoba’s tourism industry grappling with enormous losses due to COVID-19 – May 26, 2020

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