Fight continues for tourism industry

With summer now officially here, visitors from the United States and other provinces can be found all across our region enjoying the natural beauty and outdoor activities it provides.
From the accounts I’m receiving, tourism activity appears to be up in our region this summer, which is welcome news for an industry that has been hard hit by the impacts of the global recession, strong Canadian dollar, HST, and rising gas prices.
Even the week of the Fourth of July, which normally is a slow period for local operators, saw many camps unexpectedly full and large numbers of Americans crossing the border into Canada.
This rebound is despite the poor marketing decisions made by the Ministry of Tourism and is a testament to the quality experiences our operators provide.
But more always can be—and should be—done to assist our industry. It is incumbent upon the ministry to do all that it can to assist the beleaguered industry.
Unfortunately, the Ministry of Tourism continues to stand by its flawed decision to close Travel Information Centres in our region, which help us maximize the potential of these tourist dollars.
These once great rest stops have been relegated to boarded up eye-sores that are collecting garbage.
Despite their best attempts, the fact is people still are visiting these sites. Vehicles still can be seen stopped at the boarded-up Kenora entry almost any time you pass by, and unfortunately the impression those visitors get of our province is not all that favourable.
Last week I wrote a letter to Tourism minister Michael Chan expressing my concern with these developments, and again requesting he reverse his flawed decision to close these centres without consultation, notice, or a justification that stands up to scrutiny.
To date, he has been unwilling to address these concerns and continues to find new reasons to explain his decision to close the sites, including his most recent statement that people use GPS maps to find their way to lodging, attractions, and restaurants.
While the minister continues to be stubborn, and refuses to act in the best interests of the industry he is supposed to champion, some headway has been made in the ministry itself.
Some officials who once supported the decisions now believe they may have erred.
I am confident that continued pressure through letters, phone calls, and e-mails can ensure this issue does not go away—and may sway the top decision-makers within the ministry to revisit their decision.
I would be lying if I said I believed these actions will lead to the opening of the centres this summer. The time it would take to rehire staff, update literature, and get everything up and running make this an extremely unlikely proposition.
That said, I believe the permanent closure can be prevented and I am not willing to let this issue die because our tourism industry is a vital part of our economy and it needs our support.