Three Westman businesses have been selected for provincial funding aimed at boosting Manitoba’s tourism and hospitality industries.
Travel Manitoba announced Thursday 50 tourism businesses will receive funding to aid in their recovery from the effects of COVID-19, help them adapt to changing customer expectations and offer innovative experiences through the Tourism Innovation and Recovery Fund.
“Tourism is a crucial part of Manitoba’s economy,” said Andrew Smith, Manitoba’s minister of sport, culture and heritage, in a news release. “Prior to the pandemic, the tourism sector supported over 20,000 full-time jobs and contributed over $300 million to provincial revenue. By increasing the number of quality tourism experiences through this program, Manitoba is able to be more competitive on the national and international stage.”
The Tourism Innovation and Recovery Fund was launched last November as a one-time support initiative created to increase the number of tourism experiences and support existing attractions in the province.
The program was originally budgeted at $500,000 but was increased to more than $1 million due to demands.In Westman, Arrowhead Family Resort in Clear Lake, Elkhorn Resort and Spa in Riding Mountain National Park and Westway Inn in Neepawa were selected for funding.
The last two years in the tourism and hospitality industry have been a “roller-coaster,” said Arrowhead owner Karley McRae, and the resort is grateful for the $25,000 provided by Travel Manitoba.
“It’s been a lot of challenges, but also for us in Wasagaming, we’ve found a lot of opportunities,” McRae said. “That’s not to say that it hasn’t been extremely difficult and stressful.”
She praised the program as an effective way to help flesh out neat ideas that may not have been possible without the provincial funding. The Tourism Innovation and Recovery Fund will help Arrowhead to create small group experiences that specifically target winter activities.
Winter is traditionally the slow season in Wasagaming and the resort is working to create new experiences that will encourage tourism in the area while showcasing the park’s natural beauty during the colder months.
“[We can] offer them something to do to get outside and to have that space and quiet that they need in these crazy times,” McRae said.
The funds will be used to install wood-burning saunas and to help purchase rental skates for use at the rink on the property.
“Wasagaming is traditionally a very seasonal community and with all of our properties we have been working to build more of a year-round destination for travellers, which hasn’t been done in Wasagaming for a very long time,” McRae said. “We’re creating kind of a winter package that people can buy when they come and stay at Arrowhead that involves a trip to the sauna, skates for rent, and really creates a fun winter experience for visitors to Riding Mountain National Park.”
Arrowhead now has the opportunity to put “winter in the spotlight as something Manitobans can enjoy and not dread.”
She added the future for the industry looks bright, especially after the province announced the easing of health measures Friday.
“I’m feeling optimistic about it, and I’m feeling optimistic about our opportunities for future growth in winter,” McRae said.
Chintan Patel, of Westway Inn, said he is grateful for funding as the past two years have been tough for those in hospitality and tourism due to the COVID-19 public health measures in place. The Westway Inn will receive $15,000 in funding.
“It’s not the same. It takes a toll on your overall business,” Patel said.
The Tourism and Innovation Fund has provided a financial base for the inn to explore new ideas and opportunities to attract more customers. The inn will invest the funding in improving the overall experience for clients at the facilities, including improving IT services on its website and providing more benefits to those who stay at the motel.
Patel added he has appreciated the support shown to hospitality and tourism businesses during the pandemic by Travel Manitoba, the provincial and federal governments, along with the Manitoba Hotel Association, who have served as advocates for the industry.
Government grants and funding have helped small, local businesses stay afloat during the global health crisis, while allowing them to invest in their business to the benefit of customers.
“Without their grants and support, a lot of businesses would be facing a lot of difficulties,” Patel said. “It has been very helpful.”
Small-business owners in the industry have been struggling and have worked together to survive and attract customers during COVID-19.
In Neepawa, they have been able to offer additional discounts when purchasing packages for the inn along with other local restaurants.
“We are trying our level best to create a new experience with other associations and other small businesses,” Patel said.
He is feeling positive moving forward for the industry, especially as life returns to normal and health measures are eased. Patel cautioned it will take time to recover from the economic damage of the global health crisis over the past two years.
He hopes to see more people travelling this summer, especially because they have had limited opportunities to do so during the pandemic.
“Overall, I’m quite optimistic,” Patel said.
» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.