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Friday, 05 May 2017 05:29

Partnership will keep the Trans-Canada Visitor Reception Centre at Maple Creek open for 2017

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Royce Pettyjohn speaks about the Trans-Canada Visitor Centre pilot project at Tourism Swift Current's 7th annual 49° x 110° Spring Conference at the Living Sky Casino event centre, April 28. Royce Pettyjohn speaks about the Trans-Canada Visitor Centre pilot project at Tourism Swift Current's 7th annual 49° x 110° Spring Conference at the Living Sky Casino event centre, April 28.

A one-year pilot project by the Town of Maple Creek in association with the Cypress Hills Destination Area Inc. will keep the Trans-Canada Visitor Reception Centre open for highway travellers.

Royce Pettyjohn provided details about the initiative during a presentation at Tourism Swift Current’s 7th annual 49° x 110° Spring Conference at the Living Sky Casino event centre, April 28.
He is the Town of Maple Creek’s manager of community and economic development and co-ordinator of the town’s Main Street program. He is also the chair of the Cypress Hills Destination Area Inc. board of directors.
The facility has been operated by the provincial government since the mid-1980s, but Tourism Saskatchewan has decided to close it.
“Over the last number of years, Tourism Saskatchewan has been slowly closing down all of the visitor centres that originally existed along the borders of Manitoba and Alberta,” he told the Prairie Post after his presentation. “Part of that was of course the rising cost of operating the centres, but also as a result of the way in which they feel that their customers are getting their information.”
People are increasingly going online to do their trip planning and they do not use these visitor centres to get information when they travel along the Trans-Canada Highway.
“It is certainly a change in the way people are doing business and certainly Tourism Saskatchewan does reach a great number more people online than they have been at these visitor centres, but for us in the southwest those visitors that were stopping at that centre are a very important market and audience,” he said. “Tourism Saskatchewan’s statistics on the centre indicated that there were between 20,000 and 30,000 visitors that were stopping at that visitor centre each year and that is a very significant number of people that essentially become your captive audience.”
Many of these travellers might not be stopping at the visitor centre for information, but only to use the washroom. He still considers that an opportunity to make them aware of the area.
“Nowadays there are apps for everything and you can get information out to people in a digital fashion, but when you need to use a washroom, there is no app for that,” he said. “So our objective is to ensure that there is a clean welcoming washroom and use the visitor centre not just for visitor information.”
They want to use the visitor centre as a way-finding station for people who are coming into the Maple Creek or greater southwest area. The facility can also be used as a regional interpretative centre where people can learn more about what to do and to see in the area.
The intention is to have various activities at the visitor centre that will attract people’s attention, even if their initial purpose was only to use the washroom.
“Rather than just brochures we’re going to have a series of pop-up stores where people are actually able to get a sense of what the retail experiences are in the area,” he explained. “The coffee that we will be offering won’t be just generic coffee. It will be stuff that is from the roastery in Eastend, served at many of the restaurants throughout the area.”
There will be baked goods from the local bakeries and pastry makers in Maple Creek. There will also be opportunities for businesses to showcase themselves during pop-up demonstrations, for example a pottery demonstration by Whitemud Clay & Pottery Studio or Treeosix Adventure Parks can bring out a climbing wall for a day.
“So it’s getting people to realize that what they see out of their car window on the Trans-Canada isn’t necessarily what is just over the hill, just five minutes off the highway,” he said. “It will be more of a showcase of who we are and what we can offer and hopefully we can use it as a point of conversion.”
The different activities and information at the visitor centre will not be of relevance to all visitors. Some might only use the washroom and then continue their journey.
“We know that not everyone that stops at the visitor centre this summer are going to be converted that day,” he said. “It’s going to be next month or next year or two years from now, but at least now rather than just driving by, looking at the signs wondering what it’s all about, they’ve actually had a small taste of what those experiences really could be like.”
The Town of Maple Creek is the lead partner in this initiative and it will be responsible for most of the project cost. The partners negotiated with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Central Services, which owns the building, after Tourism Saskatchewan decided it was no longer going to operate the visitor centre.
The agreement with the Ministry of Central Services will allow them to use the building for an annual rental fee of $1 while Tourism Saskatchewan will provide a small operating grant to them.
“So at the end of the day in theory it should be revenue neutral for the Ministry of Central Services, but then everything else associated with the operation becomes the expense of the Town of Maple Creek and Cypress Hills Destination Area,” he said. “That is part of the reason why were looking at how do we also use this visitor centre in a way that it can generate a little bit of revenue for its own maintenance so that it becomes more sustainable over the long term.”
The intention is to have the visitor centre open from the Victoria Day long weekend to the Labour Day long weekend. It will be open 10 hours a day for seven days a week, and then with reduced hours and days through September.
The Town of Maple Creek already operates a visitor centre in the town, but this facility at the Trans-Canada Highway will serve a different purpose.
“Most definitely we need both and no, it’s not duplication at all,” he said. “The people that are out on the highway often are not the people that are turning off the highway. … When they get to Maple Creek the type of service and information that they need is going to be different than the visitors out on the highway. The visitors out on the highway are the ones that we are trying to convert. The visitors that are coming to our centre in town are the converted.”
This pilot project for the Trans-Canada Visitor Centre will be reviewed after this year by the two partners in association with Tourism Saskatchewan and the Ministry of Central Services.
“All the parties will evaluate how the pilot went and if it was a success, or seen as being a success,” he said. “Then I would hope that it would continue, because I think there is a demonstrated need and value to have that facility operating.”

Read 1642 times Last modified on Wednesday, 03 May 2017 15:34
Matthew Liebenberg