MOOSE JAW — While Tourism Moose Jaw’s visitor numbers and trolley revenue in 2022 were the highest in years, the organization knows it still faces future challenges, including an economic downturn and an aging building.
The pandemic heavily affected the tourism industry the past two years, but the organization weathered the storm due to grant funding and good decision-making, executive director Jacki L’Heureux-Mason explained during the special city council budget meeting on Nov. 22.
Tourism Moose Jaw (TMJ) and the Canada Day Committee want $97,680 and $2,663, respectively, next year from the city, which is $2,845 and $78 more, respectively, than this year.
TMJ experienced two “very painful” years in 2020 and 2021 with tourist numbers, as roughly 7,500 people and about 16,000 people visited, respectively, she continued. However, this year felt more normal as it attracted over 25,000 visitors — beating 2018’s tourism figures.
About 31,000 tourists annually is normal, but there were slightly fewer tourists this year because the continued border closure prevented more Americans from coming. However, TMJ noticed a jump in U.S. visitors after the border reopened in September.
“Our overall revenue looks really, really great this year,” continued L’Heureux-Mason.
This year, the organization experienced many victories, from doubling merchandise sales to $72,000 to breaking trolley revenue records with almost $100,000 in ticket sales. It also sold out every seat in October — over 350 spots — thanks to its Halloween-related tours.
TMJ acquired a $300,000 grant to purchase a new trolley, but Transport Canada thwarted its efforts to bring a new vehicle across the border, so it was forced to buy a second-hand vehicle, L’Heureux-Mason continued.
“To say I’m disappointed would be a massive understatement,” she remarked. “I don’t like leaving money on the table from the feds, but this was our only option, and I will be happy (because) at least we will have two trolleys next year, which will be useful to us after this year.”
TMJ expects the trolley to arrive in early January.
Meanwhile, Sidewalk Days attracted over 25,000 during the three days. While tourism staff and volunteers were quite tired afterward, they were also very happy to see it return since it’s a major economic driver, she said.
Canada Day also broke attendance records, but TMJ plans to discontinue organizing it because it does not fit within its goals and takes up employees’ time. However, it will sponsor the fireworks since those are cost-neutral.
While TMJ does its best to financially support its members — 182 and growing — its foremost goal is to operate a visitors’ centre that is clean, accessible, safe and welcoming, said L’Heureux-Mason. It also wants to offer the downtown ambassador booth program as an excellent visitor resource.
Moose Jaw needs one or two new major attractions to bring in more people and keep repeat visitors satisfied, she pointed out. TMJ estimates that the community attracts 300,000 to 400,000 total visitors annually who contribute $70 million to $100 million to the economy.
Tourism Moose Jaw expects to face several challenges in the coming year, including a nationwide recession, she continued. However, TMJ believes Saskatchewan is “extremely uniquely poised” to weather that storm more than other provinces.
Therefore, the organization’s marketing message in 2023 will likely focus on how Moose Jaw is an affordable place for families to visit.
A second challenge TMJ faces is an aging building that requires work — painting, a new heating system, and a new septic/sewer system — increased wages, building costs, utilities and daily operations.
“We are a bit of a jewel on the No. 1 highway. We have people stop in (who were) so thankful that they have a physical location to understand what Moose Jaw has to offer,” said L’Heureux-Mason.
The executive director added that over 2,000 people downloaded TMJ’s app this year, the website received around 110,000 hits, and — to her surprise — the physical tourism guides continued to be popular.
The next budget meeting is Wednesday, Nov. 30.