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‘The next Iceland’? Manitoba the only Canadian destination to make Lonely Planet’s prestigious list of top travel spots

2018/10/24

Source: Winnipeg Free Press
https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/business/the-next-iceland-498368461.html

MARTIN CASH

According to Lonely Planet, the global tourism industry is ready to shine a spotlight on Manitoba.

The province made it onto the publisher’s prestigious list of the top 10 regional travel destinations for 2019.

Experiences like polar bear and beluga whale watching in Churchill, which have been bolstered by enhanced safari expeditions and air connections, as well as the province’s pristine lakes, excellent hunting and fishing excursions and the cosmopolitan feel of Winnipeg all contributed to Lonely Planet making Manitoba the only selection from Canada out of 40 selections in four categories.

Ben Buckner, Lonely Planet’s editor in charge of Canada and the western U.S., said he was happy that Manitoba was honoured this way.

“The reasons Manitoba is on the list are things that are not a surprise to many of you who know Manitoba and know its charm,” he said. “But we think there are some of the things the world is about to find out and we are excited.”

‘There is something intangible here. My time in Manitoba has always been marked by this very subtle charm. That’s very important’— Ben Buckner (below), Lonely Planet’s editor for Canada and the western U.S.

He said wildlife encounters in the Churchill region might be taken for granted by Manitobans, “but these are one-of-a-kind experiences that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.”

On a personal note, Buckner said, “There is something intangible here. My time in Manitoba has always been marked by this very subtle charm. That’s very important.”

In compiling the list this year, Buckner said Lonely Planet staff selected places, keeping in mind trends they believe will be important for travellers in the coming year. These include the increasing popularity of dark sky tourism (star/Northern Lights-gazing) and places that are off the beaten track.

“We see travellers these days starting to look for destinations off the tourism track, places that are not so heavily touristed,” he said. “We think Manitoba is well positioned for an off-the-tourism-track destination.”

In that context, he said, Lonely Planet thinks Manitoba has the potential “to be the next Iceland.”

As far as the rail service disruption to Churchill, he said, “We’ll be excited when it is reopened and that connection made again to Churchill. We think it will drive lots of tourism to that part of the region as well.”

Not surprisingly, the selection will be a massive shot in the arm for tourism promotion in the province.

In the first couple of hours after the list was disclosed, Travel Manitoba’s video had 50,000 views on social media.

For Travel Manitoba CEO Colin Ferguson, it’s like the best Christmas present ever.

“This is a really big deal for Manitoba,” he said. “Those who visit know it is a special place. Now the rest of the world will know Manitoba is indeed a special place. We can’t wait to welcome the world to experience all the great things the province has to offer.”

It comes at the perfect time as the industry has already been experiencing huge increases in both visitors and tourism spending. In 2017, tourism revenue in the province was up $100 million to $1.6 billion.

Since 2015, Ferguson said, the goal has been to grow the industry by 40 per cent to $2.1 billion by 2020, a growth rate not seen anywhere in the country, or around the world, for that matter.

“I think it’s because, one, we have a great product, but two, we are a little under the radar,” he said.

“There’s lots of people who either had no opinion or a low opinion of Manitoba as a travel destination. These kinds of announcements from Lonely Planet and the exposure and credibility and reputation and respect that gives us will change that.”

 

Photo: Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press