After meeting with Premier Brad Wall on Thursday afternoon, Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne said they are on the same page about the next step for northern Saskatchewan after this year’s devastating forest fires.
“The fires are over. Now we have to talk about how we get the tourism business and the customers back to the north,” Dionne said outside of city hall.
Among the many topics discussed at their meeting, the mayor’s suggestion to reboot the Northern Saskatchewan Tourism Region seemed to spark the interest of the premier.
“The mayor has a really positive attitude about what needs to be happen next,” said Wall.
“Yes we need to learn about fire response and how to respond better … but he’s very much looking towards the future in terms of what’s next for recovery in the northwest, especially around tourism.”
For over 10 years, Northern Saskatchewan Tourism Region solely promoted tourism north of Prince Albert, focusing mostly on the small tourism operators. The organization’s provincial funding was cut in 2011 and closed its doors in 2012.
Dionne, who acted as the Northern Tourism Region chair, says the reboot will happen for only a short period of time to help the north rebound from this summer.
“These businesses have already suffered through the fire. They’ve really lost the season and I don’t think they can afford to lose another season, so it’s our challenge to see if we can help them over the winter to get that season back,” said Dionne.
The suggestion will be taken back to Tourism Saskatchewan by Wall. He hopes to provide help the organization with funding.
“We have a very tight budget right now so there’s not a lot of money sitting around, but this is very unique,” Wall said. “Can we help as a provincial government with those co-op dollars in terms of marketing? That’s what we’re going to look at, but I think it’s a great idea.
“For (the message) to get out it takes some advertising … to let folks know exactly that the north very much still has all the lure and attraction that it did in terms of product,” Wall continued.
Even with the Northern Saskatchewan Tourism Region’s help, it will take some time to rejuvenate the tourism, admits Dionne.
“The hunting parts are going to be affected. The really affected ones that I have to think about on how we’re going to solve is the ecotourism,” said Dionne. “We had lots of people come up north for the canoe trip, and see the moose, play in the field, and see the birds and the bald eagles and the trees. Those ones will be a bigger challenge.
“At the end of the day, the fish didn’t leave. That’s why the tourists and the Americans came – they came to fish.”