Getting away with the prairies

Getting away with the prairies

THE CANADIAN prairies' tabletop flatlands are one of the country's best known icons - yet in tourism terms it yields sparse interest from the holiday market.

Competing with the Rocky Mountains in the west and the cosmopolitan cities of the east, Canada's middle provinces get little attention.

The under-recognised region includes Manitoba, bordering Ontario and the Hudson Bay in the north, and Saskatchewan, the heartland province of more than 250,000sq miles. One reason for the prairies' relative obscurity is its distance from the more popular destinations. However the third province in the region, Alberta, is enjoying a strong marketing partnership with neighbouring British Columbia. Both share the resources of the Rockies for summer and winter sports and outdoor recreation - a fast-growing market for the British.

However, Manitoba and Alberta have the key requirement of direct air services from the UK. Alberta is already developing as a western Canadian destination for ranch stays, activity holidays and winter sports through the gateway city of Calgary. And with no provincial sales tax, UK operators are featuring winter shopping trips to Edmonton, home of the giant West Edmonton Mall. Shopaholics can also take advantage of the mall's own hotel, theme park, skating rink and 10,000sq ft spa complex.

Through the gateway of Winnipeg, holidaymakers can participate in Manitoba's latest attraction - polar bear and whale-watching at Churchill near Hudson Bay.

Once the preserve of the small independent specialist operator, bigger companies are now meeting demand from a larger UK audience with trips into the region. Specialist operator Windows on the Wild offers week-long stays in Churchill. Managing director Maggi Smit said: "We have brought together some of the best opportunities for clients to observe animals and birds in their most natural habitat, and are working with the most experienced guides to maximise holiday enjoyment."

Globespan marketing director Iain Mayer recommends Saskatchewan for the enthusiastic angler. He said: "We do not feature the area in our brochure but the province is renowned for its fishing and outdoor recreation." Although the northern part of the province is mostly wilderness, white-water rapids and the spectacular Twin Falls on the Churchill River, combined with some of the best sport fishing and canoeing in North America make it a desirable place.

Several hundred specialist outfitters cater for wildlife and adventure expeditions which also take in the history and culture of the region.

Allyson Smith, Canada product manager for Travel 4, said: "We don't feature Saskatchewan at present as it is difficult to add it on to more popular options. However, with the right marketing it could figure on the British market in the future." Next summer will see the operator introduce self-drive itineraries in Alberta's Waterton National Park, including activities such as hiking and trail rides.


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