COVID-19 — Challenging Manitoba’s Lodge and Outfitting Industry
By Dr. Brian G. Kotak, Executive Director MLOA
As the second largest industry in Canada (next to Health), tourism already felt the impacts of the corona virus before it even made landfall in North America. The first notions of an impending problem started when Chinese tourists began canceling visits to Canada in droves in late 2019. Since then, COVID-19 came to North America, and the closure of the Canada/US border shut the tourism industry down completely.
In Manitoba, lodges and outfitters started experiencing cancellations even before the border closed, as US clients got nervous about traveling to Canada. Within 24 hours of the border closure, MLOA partnered with the Canadian Federation of Outfitter Associations to send out an initial economic impact survey to outfitters across Canada. In Manitoba, even at that early date, 55% of outfitters surveyed indicated that they had already experienced cancellations. More than 32% indicated that their entire season was already in jeopardy, about 15% percent said that 75 – 100% of their booking were in question and many indicated that they may lose 25 – 75% of their bookings. What is a small, family owned lodge or outfitter business to do, when you have already collected deposits from those clients, and have already spent most of those deposits gearing up for the season? There is no easy answer. Those businesses in Manitoba have already lost anywhere from tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars already, some almost a million.
Canada-wide, the results of the survey indicate a cost to the national economy of $1.5 billion in gross economic activity, $833 million to GDP and almost 22,000 jobs. That’s just for the outfitting industry. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada recently estimated that COVID-19 could cause Canada to lose about $6 billion per month in lost revenue and result in the loss of 800,000 direct jobs when looking at all tourism sectors.
CAN WE WEATHER THE STORM?
Our lodge and outfitter industry have always weathered storms – a high Canadian dollar, economic recessions, die-off of a huge proportion of the provincial deer population due to several consecutive severe winters. The list goes on. But somehow this challenge is different. The planet has come to a screeching halt and it is going to take months for any of us to crawl out of our self-isolating cocoons, never mind ramp up the economy again. It is different this time. Very different. The response by our governments has also been different. Supports for laid off individuals (even those who would not be eligible for programs such as EI) and supports for small business. Will it be enough to save our precious tourism industry? I hope so. We are all hunkered down and waiting nervously.
LET’S TAKE THIS TIME TO SAVE THE RESOURCE!
Our government has put a lot of time and resources into promoting Manitoba as “the fishing and hunting destination to experience”. Tourism, including hunting and fishing is the mantra of our provincial government.
COVID-19 is a rare opportunity to ensure that our wildlife management policies, and for MLOA, those that apply to outfitting, are aligned with that tourism strategy. Sometimes wildlife management policies cause lost economic opportunities. A good friend once told me that tourism is like a high-performance engine. However, without the oil (e.g., natural resource policies that work with tourism), the engine will seize. COVID-19 provides us with the opportunity to examine that, to ensure alignment, and to ensure the financial resources that are put into the promotion of tourism also means we invest in the management of our natural resources.
It must be a “whole government approach” in order to make this all successful. Government departments need to all be paddling in the same direction, or the canoe goes nowhere (or worse, just in circles). MLOA has recently approached the Province of Manitoba to assist our industry in our time of need. Part of this ask includes aligning our wildlife management policies with our provincial tourism strategy.
Properly resourcing our Wildlife and Fisheries department is also part of the solution, as is adequately resourcing enforcement. Many of us in the conservation community have been advocating for this for years.
Let’s hope for brighter days for all of us and for the opportunity to get out an enjoy our fishing and hunting traditions. Maybe even visit a lodge or experience a hunt with an outfitter.