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C M Y K S M A L L B U S I N E S S M O N T H - S U P P L E M E N T T O T H E W I N N I P E G F R E E P R E S S - S A T U R D A Y , O C T O B E R 1 6 , 2 0 2 1 2 P rior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the province's tourism industry was booming, quietly chugging along behind the scenes, as it tends to do. That boom came to an abrupt halt shortly after the coronavirus arrived, says Colin Ferguson, president and CEO of Travel Manitoba. "Pre-COVID, it was a $1.6-billion industry," he says. "The industry is probably down about 45 per cent after dealing with the impact of COVID over the past year-and- a-half." Suddenly, about 6,400 tourism- related businesses, which employ in the neighbourhood of 21,000 people, had little to no income stream as no one — whether from neighbouring provinces, the United States or abroad — was able to visit Manitoba due to restrictive health orders and border closures. That said, the situation could have been much worse. "We've actually done better than pretty much every other province," says Ferguson. "That was due largely to the fact that we rely less on international travel, though tourism destinations like Churchill and lodges were hit hard. Up until COVID, we had enjoyed $100-million annual increases and were on our way to $2 billion by 2022." As the pandemic stretched on well beyond anyone's wildest dreams, businesses like hotels and restaurants were in severe financial distress. Somehow, they needed to drum up business; the question was how. After much brainstorming, a possible solution was conceived, says Chuck Davidson, CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce. "We came up with a TRIP, or Tourism Rebate Incentive Program, in March or April along with Travel Manitoba," he says. "We'd recognized the impact the pandemic was having on hoteliers. No one was staying at hotels, with capacity at maybe five to 10 per cent. We realized that we had to incentivize people to stay in hotels." The idea behind the program was simple yet brilliant. In short, it encouraged Manitobans to enjoy a getaway somewhere within the province. Anyone who made the effort to go on a staycation could submit qualifying receipts for a $100 rebate (such as a virtual MasterCard) on a one-night stay at an BY TODD LEWYS Generally, we tend to overlook the importance of something we can't see or touch. Case in point is Manitoba's tourism industry. The importance of tourism to Manitoba's small businesses Chuck Davidson, CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce Photo courtesy of Travel Manitoba Colin Ferguson, president and CEO of Travel Manitoba Photo courtesy of Manitoba Chamber of Commerce Photo by P Media Works Courtesy of Travel Manitoba Photo by Visual Soul Studios courtesy Travel Manitoba Photo by JP Media Works Courtesy of Travel Manitoba Entrepreneurs abound across the province, including those showcasing their wares at St. Norbert Farmers' Market. Tourist attractions exist across the province, including VB's Entertainment Center in Winkler and Thermëa in Winnipeg, as well as (on the cover from left to right) The Burger Boat in Pinawa, Wishme in Selkirk, Buskers in Gimli, Falcon Trails Resort, and A Maze in Corn in St. Adolphe. All photos courtesy Travel Manitoba

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