Manitoba’s tourism sector received a boost from the provincial government on Tuesday, but fishing lodge owners say they still need the borders to reopen before they can begin to recover.
Jessica Jackson, owner of Eagle Nest Lodge in Whiteshell Provincial Park, said 90 per cent of her visitors come from the United States, while most of the remaining 10 per cent are from Canadian corporate accounts.
The Canada-U.S. land border has been closed since last spring and many Canadian business have cancelled travel plans.
Manitoba also requires any out-of-province visitors to self-isolate for 14 days.
“It’s just all around been extremely difficult for us,” Jackson said.
The fishing lodge is only accessible by air or boat, which Jackson said discourages many locals from coming to visit.
“This specific sort of niche market, where you’re looking at bigger ticket fishing lodge packages to remote locations, is really having a difficult time,” she said.
The lodge typically employs up to 18 people. Jackson said many of the workers are part-time students trying to pay for their schooling.
“Last year we only hired half the guides that we normally do. We cut back on some of the other employees that we had,” Jackson said. “This year we’re scaling back even more.”
Pit Turenne, co-owner of Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge east of Lake Winnipeg, is dealing with the same issues.
His lodge is only accessible by air and about 90 per cent of his business comes from outside Manitoba.
“We have a game plan,” Turenne said. “If the borders don’t open, every game plan we have still results in us digging out of a bigger hole.”
Although some Manitobans came out to visit last summer, he still took a major hit.
He was able to reschedule some of the out-of-town guests from last year for this summer.
But with travel restrictions still in place, he might have to cancel with them again if the situation doesn’t change.
“We’re walking a bit of a tight wire right now,” Turenne said. “We don’t operate all year round, we have a little window to make our money, so if the border stays closed into July or August, we’ll essentially have lost a second season in a row.”
On Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister announced $8 million in new funding for relief for Manitoba’s tourism and hospitality sector.
The new program, called the Hospitality Relief Sector Program, will be run by the Manitoba Hotel and the Manitoba Loges and Outfitters associations.
A percentage of fixed costs such as property insurance, mortgage interest, property taxes, land leases, service fees, camp maintenance and resource retention costs will be covered.
“It’s 11,000 people, by the way, in Manitoba, that are employed by that industry,” Pallister said. “It’s a big industry for our province and very important they get the support they need.”
Both Jackson and Turenne said the money will definitely help but they still desperately need travel restrictions to be lifted and the borders reopened.