The provincial government announced $35-million in support for Saskatchewan’s struggling tourism sector on Monday through the new Saskatchewan Tourism Sector Support Program.
Roughly $5-million will go towards marketing and promotional work. The rest will be handed out in payments between $10,000 and $50,000 to large event facilities and the accommodation sector, and between $7,500 to $15,000 to event and tour operators with ongoing fixed costs.
Prince Albert Regional Economic Development Alliance (PAREDA) CEO Ashley Charles said it’s been a difficult year Saskatchewan tourism, and the funds will help refocus them heading into 2021.
“It’s a good amount,” she said on Monday. “Of course, I think any amount is beneficial considering the impact (of the pandemic).”
Charles said the tourism industry has to switch gears and focus on in-province guests instead of targeting visitors from other parts of Canada. That’s going to mean a change in marketing, promotion and advertising strategies as pandemic restrictions lift. It also means more of a broader focus than typical summer offerings.
“We’re just trying to encourage more confidence in Saskatchewan residents to travel within our region,” she explained. “COVID is around and it’s going to stay around for a bit, so we have to plan immediately for how to promote more winter tourism.”
Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association President and CEO Jim Bence also praised the decision. Bence said the hospitality sector is under extreme pressure to manage fixed costs and expenses in 2020. He believes the support program will help ease that burden.
“I think that this is the beginning of the conversation,” he said. “When we started this process months and months ago … we really had no idea what that landscape was going to look like. I think that as we look at that horizon now, this won’t be the end of the conversation, I hope.”
“This is really meant to get some people closer to shore. We’re all swimming like crazy to get there (and) this will allow a lot of folks to make changes.”
Bence said many business owners in the hospitality industry have benefited from deferral programs on things like property taxes, but he noted those programs have to end at some point. He said the $35-million boost will help businesses stay afloat when that happens.
In 2019, nearly 12-million tourists visited Saskatchewan, and spent roughly $2.2-billion. The provincial government expects that number to drop by $730-million in 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trade and Export Development Minister Jeremy Harrison announced the new program with Minister Responsible for Tourism Saskatchewan Gene Makowsky in Regina.
Harrison said they aim to increase tourism spending in Saskatchewan by 50 per cent by 2030, and the new tourism support program would help them get there.
When asked how why the government was promising money for tourism instead of other areas like schools, Harrison said it could take two to three years for the sector to recover, so the government needs to start supporting it right now.
“This is a significant step forward,” he told reporters on Monday. “We are the first jurisdiction in the entire country to move into this space in this way. I think it speaks to the very strong relationships that we have across the province.”
More information about the application process will become available on Aug. 20. The application period opens on Aug. 24. Funding amounts will be based on pre-COVID revenue.
Harrison said successful applicants will be able to receive that money “within days of making an application.”