Pinawa’s celestial light show is world famous, and attracting the attention of the Chinese travel market.
Pinawa may soon be attracting tourists from China eager to get a taste of wilderness and gaze at the northern lights. Pinawa officials, including Shane Li of the Pinawa Community Development Corporation, travelled to the cities of Wenzhou, Heze and Shanghai and met with Chinese tourism officials to explore synergies that could one day see Pinawa become an attractive tourist destination for Chinese travellers.
Pinawa also hosted seven delegates from Wenzhou who came to tour the area and see its potential for tourism and even immigration. Several Chinese travel agents have also visited to explore the possibility of developing travel packages for Winnipeg that would include visits to Pinawa.
“No one really has a travel product for Manitoba. It’s an undeveloped market — no one has tapped into it,” Li says. He’s originally from Shanghai himself. “In Western Canada, tourism is really focused on places like Banff and Vancouver. The Pinawa area is so beautiful and has so much potential.”
Another big attraction? The northern lights. Pinawa is prime viewing territory, and they can be virtually impossible to see in China, which is home to over one billion people (so the sky is often obscured by city lights). According to Li, there’s even a market for Canadians to fly to Pinawa to see the aurora borealis.
“People from Vancouver and Toronto will fly to Yellowknife to watch them. That’s very expensive. There’s a greater chance to see them in Pinawa and Lac du Bonnet, and it’s much cheaper.”
In recent years, Pinawa has made concerted efforts to find new strategies of bolstering its economy in light of the decommissioning of the nuclear research facility the community was built for. Whiteshell Laboratories was built in 1963 and Pinawa was constructed to house its employees. Decommissioning of the facility began in earnest in 2015.
Li says such tourism strategies have a big role to play not just in Pinawa’s future, but the whole region’s. He’s talking with local hotels to encourage them to think big in promoting the area as a traveller’s dream.
“Pinawa Dam and Whiteshell Park could be offered as an entire travel package. The private sector can take over a lot of those activities. If you want people to stay at your hotel, for example, you have to encourage them to come here and tour the area.”
Li notes that Manitoba attracts people from all walks of life, especially Asia. Winnipeg, he notes, has the highest Filipino population in Canada. “Once we penetrate the Chinese market, we can slowly begin to attract others. It’s a process. It’s not about one country, it’s about leveraging the entire global travel industry.”
Larry Wang, a Toronto-based travel agent who visited Pinawa recently, said the community offers many things simply not seen in places like the Big Smoke.
“I think Pinawa is a perfect place for outdoor adventurers and nature lovers. People can go swimming, rafting, canoeing, snowmobiling and more. Finally, the most deep impression for me is the northern lights in winter, which you cannot see in Toronto,” he says.
“I think there are two main places in Pinawa which attract visitors to this area – the Old Pinawa dam and the Pinawa suspension bridge. The Old Pinawa dam was Manitoba’s first hydroelectric generating station, something you won’t see in the Toronto area. And I think the Pinawa suspension bridge is as gorgeous as the Capilano suspension bridge in Vancouver.”