Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/11/2015 (584 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
What does Winnipeg have in common with an island full of penguins in the South Atlantic Ocean?
Or one of the finest vineyards in France? Or the last remaining Himalayan Buddhist kingdom?
All have made National Geographic Traveler’s prestigious list of Top 20 "Best Trips of 2016", released on Thursday, which local tourism officials believe will give this humble prairie burgh unprecedented bragging rights.
In an article titled, "Little Spark on the Prairie", the magazine cited Winnipeg as a starting point for beluga whale and polar bear trips to Churchill; noted how the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights "blipped" the "multicultural, multilingual metropolis" onto the international scene in 2014 (along with the FIFA Women’s World Cup of Soccer this year); cited the humming Exchange District; and explained that Winnipeggers brush off bone-chilling winters by skating on the Red and frolic at the Festival du Voyageur, "one of the city’s many festivals."
Given that the magazine boasts an audience of 9.3 million travel-hungry readers, Winnipeg tourism officials couldn’t contain their glee.
"The vibe you get off this article show us how Winnipeg is really creating a world-class following of the potential to visit here," said Marina James, president and CEO of Tourism Winnipeg. "We’re pretty much on fire with visitor possibilities.
"Winnipeg has changed," James added. "We’re putting out world-class food. We have the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The Journey to Churchill. The second largest park (Assiniboine) in North America - with polar bears.
"We’re smart, we’re capable and as savvy as anyone in the world. We have the ability to translate this into exceptional economic benefits."
Also included in the top 20 on the National Geographic’s "go now" destination list were the lush Seychelles archipelago, off Kenya’s east coast; the penguin tours of South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic; the Big Five (lions, buffalo, elephants, leopards and rhinos) of Botswana’s Okavango Delta; and the last remaining Buddhist Kingdom of Eastern Bhutan.
Of course, Winnipeggers who fish-tailed to work on icy-roads Thursday and braced against winds gusting to 60 km/hr while trying to stay upright may have been the first to question National Geographic’s list.
Even from the outset of the National Geographic article, the writer acknowledged the city "doesn’t usually find its way onto bucket lists." (Although the piece did mention the "time honoured wedding tradition in Winnipeg" knowns as the ‘Manitoba social’; a prenuptial fundraising party for the almost wed.)
While a spokesman for the magazine could not be reached on Thursday to discuss the selection process, the article indicated that the CMHR and the polar bear/beluga tours were major factors in setting Winnipeg out from the global crowd.
Colin Ferguson, president and CEO of Travel Manitoba, agreed.
"These are iconic experiences," Ferguson said. "Manitoba is the best place in the world to see beluga whales and polar bears up close."
As for little ol’ Winnipeg being ranked alongside New York City or the vineyards of Burgundy, France or the Danube River from the Black Forest to the Black Sea - described the "midieval version of Route 66 - Ferguson said, "It’s about time."
"It’s really exciting to be on the same list as landmark destinations," he added. "It shows well that all the new assets are starting to demonstrate Winnipeg is a great destination. That’s encouraging. We’ve hit the big time."
And it’s not just that Winnipeg has embraced the winter months with skating trails, warming huts and pop-up restaurants on the Red. Or just that the museum and Women’s World Cup games generated national attention. Just as important: Winnipeg is now selling its collective story to the world.
CMHR communications director Angela Cassie said Manitoba-based tourism associations have spent the last two years aggressively marketing Winnipeg’s narrative to international press, including 30 national and international travel writers this past summer alone.
"It’s what we’ve been developing in Winnipeg....to really tell our story," Cassie said. "It’s not happening by accident. We built it (media attention) and we’re not sitting passively waiting for people to come."
For example, James said the museum attracted a total of 140,000 visitors from May to September, with 53 percent of visitors from outside Manitoba. The CMHR attracted a total of 400,000 visitors (paid and unpaid) in the first 12 months of operation - well in excess of the projected total of 250,000.
The million dollar question, however, is what now? Can a high-profile endorsement in a world-renowned travel magazine translate into a bumper crop of tourists looking for polar bears and human rights exhibits?
"It’s difficult to quantify, other than it’s a terrific accolade by a credible source," Ferguson said. "It may influence people, you never know. But it’s all good news."