Tourism Saskatchewan is planning to close the Fleming Visitor Reception Centre.
The VRC on the Trans-Canada Highway welcomes visitors to the province, sells souvenirs, and distributes tourist information.
Four people were employed seasonally at the centre.
Jonathan Potts, executive director of marketing and communications with Tourism Saskatchewan, said the closure was a business decision.
“It was very much a business decision,” he said in an interview Thursday. “We have been looking at trends in visitor services for years now and we’ve seen travellers’ reliance on reception centers go down while their reliance on technical solutions to their questions goes up,” he said.
“We know, for example, from research that the number one thing people do when they start thinking about planning a vacation is a Google search, so things like search optimization become really important.
“The (VRCs) have certainly been under review for a number of years. We are constantly accessing everything that we do here, not just the VRCs, and we’ve just come to a point where we (decided to close them).”
There used to be five Visitor Reception Centres around the province, and last summer just two were open—at Moosomin and Maple Creek along the Trans-Canada Highway.
“Over the past two years we closed three and we had two remaining,” said Potts. “We have now made the decision to close those two.”
The two Visitor Reception Centres employ eight people on a seasonal basis, and had 60,000 visitors through their doors in 2016.
The buildings are owned by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Central Services, and are leased by Tourism Saskatchewan.
Potts said he didn’t know what would be done with the buildings if the closures go ahead.
Potts said the decision to close the centres and not hire eight seasonal staff is not related to the provincial government’s belt tightening.
“Not directly, no,” he said. “This is very much a business decision based on our business.”
He said there was no consultation with tourism related businesses or affected communities before the decision was made.
“Because there are jobs and people involved we can’t share too much information in advance,” he said. “With that said, I have a call into the Town of Moosomin today to discuss this further, so we are just following the proper chain of events to talk to the affected staff first then follow up with the communities.”
He said Tourism Saskatchewan is facing tightening finances. “Like every part of the government, our budget has been a bit tighter than it has been, so certainly we are looking for the best way of doing things and looking for the greatest bang for our buck,” he said. “Like I said, this was very much a business decision that we looked at where people are getting our information from, how they are getting information, whether it’s online or through our call center here and so on, and they made that analysis and came to this conclusion.”
The Manitoba government had announced closure of the Kirkella Visitor Reception Centre at one point, but changed the decision after opposition from local communities.
Asked if the decision would be reviewed if there is community opposition, Potts said “We will deal with that when it comes. At this stage it’s the decision and we are moving forward. Of all of our out of province visitations last year less then three percent stopped in at the VRCs, whereas by comparison well over 80 percent would be looking online for information, so again we are analyzing costs and benefits. There is a strong business case here but we can’t predict the future entirely.”