Travel writer Nikki Bayley of the U.K. had only been in Churchill a matter of minutes when she experienced what she describes as her "first first time."
"We came out of the airport and within five minutes, the van stops and there was a polar bear by the side of the road!" Bayley explained in an interview Wednesday.
"It was a few days of first times for me," she said of her visit this week to northern Manitoba's famous tourist hot spot. "The first time I saw a polar bear, the first time I saw the northern lights... the first time I snorkeled with the whales."
Bayley is one of nearly 300 delegates, including more than 140 Canadian and international travel writers, who have descended on Winnipeg this week for the Canadian Tourism Commission's 11th annual travel-media show, called GoMedia Marketplace.
The five-day event is designed to generate media exposure for Canada's tourism industry through trips, media tours and three days of speed-dating-style meetings between journalists and Canadian tour operators and media-relations specialists for various Canadian tourist attractions.
'I think Winnipeg is, how can I put this, undiscovered. There are a lot of hidden treasures here that people don't know about'
Hosting the event has enabled local tourism industry groups such as Travel Manitoba and Tourism Winnipeg to shine a spotlight on some of this province's key attractions in hopes of garnering positive media exposure and drawing more visitors here.
And it seems to be working. Bayley was one of three out-of-province travel writers interviewed Wednesday -- the others were Quentin Long of Australia and Kate Pocock of Toronto -- who said they've been impressed with the tourist attractions they've seen so far.
One of the biggest highlights for all three was a Tuesday-night visit to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is still a work in progress as it prepares for its September opening.
"The building is spectacular," Pocock said.
She said it's been more than a decade since her last visit to Winnipeg, and she was also impressed with some of the additions to both The Forks and Assiniboine Park.
"I think Winnipeg is, how can I put this, undiscovered. There are a lot of hidden treasures here that people don't know about."
But what really knocked her socks off was a visit to the Assiniboine Zoo and its Journey to Churchill exhibit.
"Polar bear ballet in the water" is how she described the show the bears put on for the tour participants. "It was like they were dancing (in the water) above us. I loved it!"
It was hard to tell which of the "firsts" Bayley experienced during her visit to the Port of Churchill that impressed her the most. She said seeing the northern lights has been a longtime dream of hers, and she got to see a show of a lifetime in Churchill.
"I got out of the bus, and I looked up and burst into tears. It was like a whole musical display in the sky. It was spectacular," she said.
Swimming with the beluga whales was another experience she won't forget.
"They were so playful. It dazzled me. It absolutely dazzled me."
In addition to the CMHR, Long said he was impressed with some of the local restaurants they visited. And while he's not a fan of zoos, he couldn't help but be impressed with the Journey to Churchill exhibit.
"I like how they've integrated the conservancy and education element of it," as well as the open design of some of the exhibit's animal enclosures, he said. "It's a very good development, and I hope to see it thrive."
Long said he was also looking forward to visiting Osborne Village and The Forks. His big regret will be not having time to go for a long drive outside the city.
"I'd love to just drive around your prairies."
Travel Manitoba president and CEO Colin Ferguson said he's heard nothing but positive feedback from the writers he's met so far, and hopefully that will translate into a lot of good ink for the province. He said Canada's tourism industry is expected to reap an estimated $34 million worth of media exposure over the next year from this event, with a good chunk of that coming Manitoba's way.
"We could never pay for advertising that would come anything close to providing what they can provide with a story," said Tourism Winnipeg senior vice-president Chantal Sturk-Nadeau.
Sturk-Nadeau said in addition to the media exposure, the event's participants are also expected to inject more than $300,000 into the local economy through their spending on such things as hotel rooms, restaurant meals and shopping.