Think of the CMHR not as a destination, but as an add-on

Images depicting the Northern Lights, as shown on the "Everything Churchill" web site. The Northern Lights are a fascinating part of the Canadian experience for visitors from Europe to Australia. (Click for source.)

Images depicting the Northern Lights, as shown on the “Everything Churchill” web site. The Northern Lights are a fascinating part of the Canadian experience for visitors from Europe to Australia. (Click for source.)

Since before the building even started to go up, there has been widespread confusion about the role that the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) would play in Manitoba’s tourism industry. This was exemplified by a 2013 news release suggesting that the city would “welcome [a] surge of visitors” once the Museum opened — and by the disappointed tone of the news this week that a “measly” and “mere” one percent of visitors last month were international tourists from countries other than the U.S.

In fact, this one percent figure is entirely unsurprising, not least because only one-third as many foreign visitors enter Canada on a typical March day as arrive on a normal day during the July-August peak. Travel Manitoba’s latest annual report shows that non-U.S. international visitors made up one percent of tourists in Manitoba in 2012, so international visitors to the Museum are at the level one would expect.

By flipping through that report, it is not difficult to guess what draws many of those international visitors who, at $772 per person-visit, spent twice as much money here as interprovincial and U.S. visitors, and nearly eight times as much as intra-provincial tourists.

Visitors to Manitoba by source, and how much they spent. (Source: Travel Manitoba annual report)

Visitors to Manitoba by source, and how much they spent. (Source: Travel Manitoba annual report)

As many of the images in the report illustrate, Manitoba’s wilderness is the province’s number-one tourism advantage.

Let’s say you’re Derek and Laura, a fictional couple of empty-nesters in their late fifties from Nottingham, England, who have decided to finally splurge to take a Canadian rail holiday. Or Stefan, a 25-year-old German from Stuttgart, completing his first year of full-time office work and looking to take a holiday with his buddies that will really impress their friends following them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Offhand, Winnipeg is to them what Nottingham and Stuttgart, two cities similar to Winnipeg in size, are to us. Sure, there are some nice things to see and do in each, such as Wollaton Hall and the Robin Hood Town Tour in Nottingham, or Palace Square and the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart. But unless you have a compelling reason as a Canadian tourist to go to these places, you’re probably not going to take time away from Europe’s much bigger draws to visit these medium-sized cities.

But if you’re Derek and Laura, taking a wobbly old train into the wild Canadian frontier to see polar bears, beluga whales and the Northern Lights might just sound like the adventure of a lifetime. And for Stefan, being a young avid angler with money to spend, the idea of a week at a middle-of-nowhere fishing lodge angling for northern pike and walleye might sound like a fantastisch idea that could never be replicated in Germany.

And that’s where the CMHR could make sense for international visitors to Manitoba. Naturally, no one will visit Winnipeg just to see a museum any more than anyone would visit London just to see the Imperial War Museum.

But if you happen to be in Winnipeg anyway, it makes sense to go see the CMHR for a mere $15 more. If you’re Derek and Laura, you’ll want to allow the train at least a twelve-hour margin of error on the return trip — this isn’t Europe, where a 15-minute delay is considered “severe” — which might mean having a couple of days in Winnipeg during which to see a few sights.

And for Stefan and his buddies, Winnipeg would be a logical jumping-off point to the North, again allowing for a short stay in the city.

Now might be a good time to mention, however, that while the CMHR might have made it on to TripAdvisor’s list of Winnipeg attractions (at #19 as of April 28), the Museum gets no top-level mention on Frommer’s listing of Winnipeg attractions, and is similarly obscure on Virtual Tourist’s site. And as far as Fodor’s is concerned, Winnipeg doesn’t even exist. With the summer high season rapidly approaching, the marketers might want to get on the case, pronto.

About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

6 Responses to Think of the CMHR not as a destination, but as an add-on

  1. Thanks for an interesting, informative comment. Look for a reference to it in a couple of weeks in my Passing Scene column at

  2. theviewfromseven says:

    Thank you!

  3. TRex says:

    If the “role” of the CMHR was international tourism (which I don’t know that it was but most probably given the cost and expectations) then it was bound to fail. Given it’s location Winnipeg has always been weak on foreign tourism. Perhaps the visitor numbers as regards the CMHR should be re-visited with a more open eye, just for fun? The EU is in termoil to the point that it’s very existence is currently in question. It’s not exactly a font of willing tourists.

  4. theviewfromseven says:

    Canada’s international traveler entry numbers have actually held up quite well. July 2015 was up 7% over July 2014, and 22% over July 2013. (Though it should be noted that this covers all foreign markets except for the U.S., and thus it’s possible that some countries’ numbers are down while others are up.)

    The future of the Schengen Zone certainly looks shaky these days. Between that and the financial crises, it looks like the EU expanded too far, too fast; and might have been better off if it only reached from Helsinki to Toulouse and from Vienna to Galway.

  5. TRex says:

    Not looking to be difficult dude but in spite of it’s pear shape the Schengen Zone is about to be killed off not by bad planning in Brussels or economics but by a huge migrant influx which is a direct result of years of American foreign policy and a Russian Federation led by a KGB dwarf with an inferiority complex. In retrospect it never really had a chance.
    Anyway, I really hope Winnipeg & it’s venues can get a bigger piece of the international tourist pie. I just don’t realistically see that happening.

  6. theviewfromseven says:

    No worries. I appreciate the perspective, and agree that persistent outside intervention in the Middle East (and elsewhere) was a major contributing factor.

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