The Prince Albert Visitor Centre will remain closed for the rest of the year due to economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Prince Albert Regional Economic Development Alliance (PAREDA) board announced the decision on Thursday. CEO Ashley Charles said the late start to the tourism season, combined with strict social distancing restrictions, made it difficult to justify opening later in the summer.
“We didn’t anticipate (having) a tourism season,” she said. “It’s so uncertain. We were guessing maybe July or August (for opening), but that is the end of the tourism season.”
Although the actual centre won’t open, some of its services will still be available online. Residents can still purchase fishing licences by visiting www.saskatchewanhal.ca, and general inquires will still be answered via email or the Prince Albert Tourism Facebook page.
Charles said the PAREDA board will use the downtime to revamp its tourism strategy for 2021. That includes more marketing campaigns and promotional work, with a focus on year-round tourism instead of just the summer months.
“We’re going to use this time to build a solid foundation administratively, but also to prepare for next year,” she explained. “We will be prepared for the (next) tourism season, but hopefully we can open up the Visitor Centre for an all year-round place to go. It’s more strategy than anything.”
Charles said COVID-19 is hitting the tourism sector hard in Prince Albert. While she’s sympathetic to the struggles business owners will face, she reiterated that there’s too much uncertainty to keeping the visitor centre open.
“That’s the bigger picture,” she said. “It doesn’t just come down to individual thinking. It’s happening all across the world, and we’re just responding.”
“There’s only so much we can do,” she added. “Tourism took a huge hit this year. They’re hurting the most, the ones who provide that service. It’s unfortunate.”
COVID-19 restrictions on some tourism sectors will end on May 19 when phase two of the Re-open Saskatchewan Plan officially begins. That list includes retail businesses, shopping falls and farmers’ markets.
Outfitters are allowed to travel to their camps starting May 15, but must comply with all public health orders and travel restrictions in the Northern Saskatchewan Administrative District, which covers about half the province.
The tourism sector contributes roughly $2-billion annually to Saskatchewan’s economy.