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New tourism agreement approaches final hurdle

New tourism agreement approaches final hurdle
Prince Albert Regional Economic Development Alliance (PAREDA) CEO Ashley Charles speaks during a meet and greet at City Hall on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The City of Prince Albert has tentatively agreed to transfer tourism marketing, management and operations to the Prince Albert Regional Economic Development Alliance (PAREDA).

City council approved the agreement during the June 15 executive committee meeting by an 8-1 margin. It still requires final approval at the next regular council meeting on June 29.

Supporters say the move say it will help boost a sector that was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The agreement runs until the end of 2021, and will see the old Prince Albert Tourism Board replaced with representatives from PAREDA.

“The tourism boards we’ve had have done well, but we want it bigger than that,” Mayor Greg Dionne said in an interview.

Dionne said Prince Albert needs to be more aggressive in marketing itself as a tourism destination. He said it’s already a popular location for summer outdoor recreation lovers, but thinks more could be done to attract guests in the winter.

“We’ve got lots of things to sell (and) snow is among them,” he explained. “I go to these (trade) shows and I see towns like Melfort and Nipawin set up and giving out brochures on the hotel rates and restaurants that they have, and all the amenities they offer. Well, that should be us. We’re the hub of the north. We don’t want all the business, but we want quite a bit of it.”

Prince Albert signed on to PAREDA in March 2019, along with five other nearby communities, First Nations and Rural Municipalities. Since then, the organization has taken over the Prince Albert Tourism Centre, and started plans for a three to five year tourism strategic plan.

PAREDA CEO Ashley Charles said COVID-19 has hammered local tourism, forcing them to discontinue or suspend promotion, marketing, and convention and event planning services. They also ceased producing print copies of the Prince Albert Discovery Guide, and closed the Tourism Visitors Centre until 2021.

Despite those challenges, Charles said the pandemic has given them time to evaluate the future of the sector. 

“There’s just nothing happening (because of COVID), but that does give us a lot of time,” Charles said during the June 15 meeting. “We just want to assess what’s important and move forward.”

PAREDA will inherit the $140,000 in annual City funding provided to the old Prince Albert Tourism Board. Council will review that contribution during fall budget debates.

Charles said they’ll use those funds to hire either a business development officer or a marketing manager to help promote the region. It will likely also involve revamping the tourism centre interior to make it more visitor friendly. Charles said the current setup looks more like an office, and not a visitor destination.

Prince Albert’s planning and development director Craig Guidinger said the agreement marks “a fresh start to what tourism could be in Prince Albert,” but added this is the first step of many.

“We want to make sure we don’t bite off more than we can chew,” he told council. “We’ve got an agreement that’s ready to go, and I think the board is quite eager to continue developing partnerships and promote tourism, marketing and economic development in the region as much as we can.”

“We’ve got so many tourist attractions outside of our city as well that we promote, and will be attracting people to stay and drive through (Prince Albert),” he added. “We don’t want to be blind to that as well.”