Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Time to organize city's walking tours

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BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files
Information on Winnipeg�s various walking tours, including the West End BIZ�s mural tour, can be confusing.

BORIS MINKEVICH Enlarge Image

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files Information on Winnipeg�s various walking tours, including the West End BIZ�s mural tour, can be confusing.

Winnipeg might not be one of North America's leading or even Top 50 mass-market holiday destinations, but this city does attract some tourism through several narrow but lucrative feeds.

BUSINESS AND CONVENTION TRAFFIC: Though busy during the day, many of these visitors are looking for something to do after 6 p.m. instead of spending the evening watching TV in their hotel rooms.

RURAL AND SMALL-TOWN VISITORS: If you live in small-town Manitoba or northwestern Ontario, or even parts of North Dakota and Minnesota, Winnipeg is the closest relatively large city to go to for the weekend for something a little more diverse than the limited small-town shopping and entertainment options. For many Manitobans, Winnipeg is also the nearest place to go to for appointments with professionals and specialists.

PEOPLE IN TRANSIT: Winnipeg's position on the Trans-Canada Highway, on Via Rail's transcontinental rail route, and as the transfer point for hunters, anglers and whale/polar bear-watchers heading north allows it to sell some of its attractions as ways to fill the time during stopovers.

PEOPLE VISITING FRIENDS AND RELATIVES: As the city's immigrant communities continue to grow by leaps and bounds, this will continue to generate tourist traffic in the form of friends and relatives coming to visit.

One activity that tends to sell well to all of these groups, as well as to locals, is the urban walking tour. As those who have been on walking tours in other cities might attest, a well-done tour not only gives a city a little more character, but is also a good way for visitors to meet other travellers from around the country and the world.

Too bad, then, Winnipeg's walking tour scene leaves much to be desired. While there is an array of walking tours offered, it's a rather scattershot affair.

The west Exchange District tour sounds good if you're interested in architecture or in hearing more about the stories behind this funky, central Winnipeg neighbourhood. But when does it run?

The tour's website notes the "first" tour leaves 133 Albert St. at 9 a.m., and the "last" departs at 4:30 p.m. But what about the tours in between? Since it's a 90-minute tour, do they depart at 90-minute intervals? Who knows? (If this sounds like a good thing to do on a Sunday, sorry: The tours run Monday to Saturday.)

I've heard great things about the Hermetic Code tour at the Manitoba legislature. Sounds like an interesting weekend thing to do for locals and visitors alike. The weekend, you say? Sorry, it's a once-a-week tour, starting Wednesdays at 6 p.m. Weekend visitors and many locals are out of luck.

The Old St. Boniface Tour seems like a good way of exploring the history of Winnipeg's French-speaking community. It runs twice a day, seven days a week, which is good (though it's curious Tourisme Riel, which runs the tour, doesn't seem to promote it on its own website). Instead of starting the tour from the Old St. Boniface City Hall on Provencher Boulevard, it might make more sense to start from The Forks. This is where one will find the city's highest concentration of tourists, and that would make it easier to sell the tour as an "impulse purchase" to people with time to kill. Just a suggestion.

Why is the West End BIZ's Mural Walking Tour alternately shown as departing from 581 Portage Ave. and from Bannatyne Avenue, many blocks away? (And the requirement participants in the food tour book "no less than two days prior to the day of the tour" would, quite frankly, turn me off as a tourist as being annoyingly bureaucratic.)

Aside from a listing on the Tourism Winnipeg website, many of Winnipeg's walking tours are otherwise organized and marketed individually. This is a tourism activity, though, which could benefit from common branding.

For example, many of New York's best walking tours are under the Big Onion Walking Tours umbrella. In London, London Walks offers one-stop shopping for walking tours. In Berlin, the market is split between Original Berlin Walks and New Berlin Tours.

The benefit of having a city's walking tours organized and marketed under one or two organizations, as opposed to Winnipeg's scattershot arrangement, is many of the tours end up feeding customers into one another: All of the information is in one place, and people who are satisfied with one tour are tempted to try another of the company's tours.

Getting this aspect of the local tourism industry into better shape would go far to giving visitors a better experience in this city.

Kevin McDougald writes the Winnipeg-based blog The View from Seven at theviewfromseven.wordpress.com.

Twitter: @kevinmcdougald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2014 A10

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