Staycation rebate program a much-needed ‘shot in the arm’ for hard-hit tourism industry, hotel group says

A new local tourism rebate program has people in the industry breathing a cautious sigh of relief after over a year of struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

Scott Jocelyn, president and CEO of the Manitoba Hotel Association, said the recently launched tourism rebate incentive program was welcome news.

The incentive began on July 31 and will run until Aug. 16, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce said in a news release. 

That program will give Manitoba residents up to a $100 rebate on one-night stays at qualifying hotels and motels in the province or up to a $150 rebate on certain hotel-designed packages that include things like meals or local attractions, the release said.

It will also offer up to half off admission fees for Manitoba Star Attractions.

The program, announced alongside Travel Manitoba and the province, shows that the government “recognizes they’ve got to give a shot in the arm to tourism,” Jocelyn said.

“The reality is we’re going to need assistance probably longer than any other sectors, and programs like this are helpful moving along the way,” he said.

Scott Jocelyn is president and CEO of the Manitoba Hotel Association. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

For Dane Surtees, general manager of the Alt Hotel in downtown Winnipeg, the incentive program seems like a win-win scenario.

“It’s going to benefit all around,” Surtees said.

“You’ve got hotels [that] have been struggling over the last year and a half [that] are going to get … heads in beds. And you’re going to have Manitobans moving around the province and getting to experience some of the great hotels and landscapes that we have, as well.”

Increased hotel occupancies will also mean those sites will be able to start bringing back staff lost during the pandemic, Surtees said.

Colin Ferguson, president and CEO of Travel Manitoba, said he hopes the new program will help those types of urban hotels, which have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic. 

In 2019, the province’s tourism industry brought in more than $1.63 billion. And while exact numbers for 2020 aren’t available yet, Ferguson said he expects to see a drop of somewhere between 40 and 60 per cent.

That’s part of why he said he hopes the new incentive program helps people feel like it’s safe to start going out a bit more now that pandemic restrictions are easing, which in turn will help blunt that downward trend in tourism spending.

“It’s going to be a new normal, but it’s better than what we have gone through in the last 18 months,” he said.

Manitobans who want to get the rebate will have to submit qualifying receipts by Aug. 23, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce’s news release said. If there are still funds left after that, the program could see a second phase.