Optimism high among camp owners

Lucas Punkari

NESTOR FALLS—Twelve months ago, the mood amongst area tourist camp operators was one of cautious optimism as they prepared to open up their doors for another summer.
But at this year’s spring meeting of the North Western Ontario Tourism Association, held last Thursday in Nestor Falls, those on hand were looking to continue to build off the successes they had in 2011.
“A lot of different things went very well last year here to help out the operators,” noted NWOTA president Tom Pearson, who also is the owner of Camp Narrows Lodge on Rainy Lake.
“The weather was very nice up here last summer, the fishing went well for those that came up here, and there was no major issues for people crossing the border compared to previous years, and they all added up to helping out the operators,” he explained.
The border once again was a topic of conversation at this year’s NWOTA meeting, but a lot of the discussion with Canadian Border Services Agency Superintendent Kevin Begin was in regards to getting clarification on a pilot project to make things easier for Americans with minor criminal histories to enter the country.
Under the Tourism Facilitation Action Plan, U.S. tourists with a single indictable offence in their criminal histories, for which they received no term of imprisonment as part of the sentence imposed and have no other convictions or acts committed that would render them inadmissible. may be allowed a one-time only fee exemption waiver if the CBSA officer so decides.
With that change occurring, operators have seen an increase in American tourists who couldn’t cross the border before wanting to come to their resorts, and Begin himself has been getting a lot of questions from those same people.
“When I come back from my days off, I usually have 10-15 messages on my phones with people asking me questions about crossing the border,” he noted.
“I think some of the information got muddled a little bit down in the States when the news got out, so what we are doing right now is making sure that the information gets out there to those people.
“And with our border agents here, we are saying for this year to give them as much latitude as possible,” Begin added.
Although it’s still to be determined how long the policy will remain in place, Pearson already is starting to see the effect it has had.
“In the past, people were a little leery at first in trying to come into Canada if they had an issue,” he noted.
“But now with the changes at the border, we are getting more phone calls from Americans who want to come up that couldn’t before, so we’re hoping that it works well this year.”
NWOTA also thanked Begin for the compliments that they received from out-of-country visitors last season over how smooth things went at the border crossing here compared to years past.
“I think a lot of that came from the swing from an agency to that of a law enforcement agency,” Begin admitted.
“The way that new people were trained saw them coming in with a bit of an attitude or a swagger perhaps in how they went about things, which had to do with being trained with what to do in an enforcement situation.
“But now we are getting things back to where they need to be, and that no matter what task we preform at the border, there needs to be a respect for the client,” he added.
The other lengthy topic of conversation Thursday was the work that’s been so far done by the Fisheries Management Zone 5 Advisory Council, which is identifying issues and providing advice to the Ministry of Natural Resources regarding current regulations and for the development of a Fisheries Management Plan.
“This is going to be the most significant input that fishers and management are going to have in a long time, as this is going to set the tone for years to come,” noted Leo Heynes, who works at the MNR office in Kenora.
“Our plan is to have a draft of the fisheries management plan for public screening by October,” noted Jeff Wiume of the Fort Frances MNR office.
“And in April of 2013, we hope to have prepared the final plan to present to the legislators for the regulations to be put into use by 2014,” he added.
With the highest priorities in the initial report, released in January, being the management of each of the different species of fish in Sunset Country, NWOTA operators also have had their issues heard on what should be done at meetings, with Lucas Adams of Gateway North Outfitters representing the organization at FMZ5 meetings.
“What we want to make sure of is that our fisheries are well-preserved for later generations, and everyone involved in the process has been working really hard in making sure that everyone is heard,” Pearson said.
But while a lot of positives were discussed during the course of the day, the one negative issue was the recent closure of the Ontario Travel Information Centres in Fort Frances, Rainy River, and Kenora on April 30.
“It still boggles me why they would close those locations, especially the one in Fort Frances, as we get more people coming across there than even Sault Ste. Marie,” noted Pearson.
“There’s still a lot of pressure and work going on behind the scenes to try and get the government to change their minds, and we really hope that we get the location in Fort Frances opened for the Victoria Day long weekend,” he added.
Despite that, though, tourist operators are looking forward to how the year goes, especially with how bookings are being done at the moment.
“What you are actually seeing now is more last-minute bookings as opposed to what you would see in the past,” Pearson remarked.
“More people, I think, aren’t making decisions about what they want to do nearly eight months in advance or so, as they are waiting to see their own schedules and what they are able to do in regards to travelling.
“That’s something that I have seen at my place, and you are seeing that elsewhere, as well,” he noted.
(Fort Frances Times)