Travel Manitoba/Destination Winnipeg: A Critique / by Deborah Clague

I've been away from my home province for three months now battling the occasional bout of homesickness. My family and friends trigger memories of course, but there are also other things I miss such as leisurely hikes around Bird's Hill Park and a nice slice of Santa Lucia Pizza (mmmmmmmmmmm...I'm going to be craving that all weekend now). However, had I not been born in the land of lakes and Burton Cummings, it would certainly be a case of "out of sight, out of mind" as the two main travel authorities - Travel Manitoba and Destination Winnipeg - don't seem to promote the province well outside of their keystone boundary. 

A few weeks ago, I won an iPod from Saskatoon Shines, the local civic tourism branch. When I went into their offices to collect my bounty, I noticed that they had, amongst the racks of promotional items for Saskatchewan sights and events, brochures and information packages on Alberta, British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories and even Nunavut. Not a Manitoba pamphlet in the bunch. I chalked it up to our infamous rivalry and petty jealousy over our football team being superior the fact that Winnipeg is getting an IKEA first. 

A short while later, I took a trip further west to Banff, Alberta. Stopping at several visitor information centres (on both sides of the border), I again noticed how, in addition to touting local tourism hotspots, other provinces and even U.S. states were offering marketing materials in an attempt to lure travellers (and their money) to visit. So where was Manitoba? Alberta couldn't possibly hate Manitoba for having a superior football team. Nor could they be jealous over the shiny new IKEA, when they have two. I started to contemplate whether it was because we brought the world Burton Cummings, but then I started to laugh while thinking of his moustache thus losing my train of thought for a few weeks and now I'm here revisiting the question again: how in the world is Travel Manitoba and Destination Winnipeg promoting the province? Even the success of "Homecoming 2010" is questionable; the entire creative department crew at my new job is originally from Manitoba...and none of them have heard about it! 

A Winnipeg associate that is well-versed/well-known in tourism marketing had told me that both of these entities focus a lot of their efforts on attracting visitors from bigger, more cosmopolitan centres because it gives the illusion that the city is on a level playing field. For instance, money is spent promoting the province to New Yorkers. I can't help but wonder how many New Yorkers can even find Winnipeg on a map, much less actually WANT to travel there. Which begs me to ask, why aren't they more actively pursuing tourists from neighboring provinces? As Saskatoon is on the Yellowhead, why can't I pick up a brochure for, say, Riding Mountain National Park while on my way? Perhaps it's part of a new MPI initiative...the less vehicles that stop in the province, the more the car theft rate will decrease. Or maybe Manitoba's battered highways just can't take the additional traffic. 

I don't have a formal education in marketing. I'm just the go-to person to make things look pretty. However, it would seem logical to me to at least be where your competition is. Promote the culture. Promote the cuisine. Retire the assumption that everything is "world class" and instead focus on being in a class of your own. 

Anyways, Burton Cummings. Mustache. LOL. Good times.