This summer, after two years of pandemic restrictions and border closures, tourism operators in Northwest Territories communities are seeing a steady recovery in business.
Richard McIntosh, who co-owns Sundog Adventures in Old Town, Yellowknife, said this summer “has been great” for business.
“I don’t think it’s clear yet,” McIntosh said. “But it’s good to see visitors have Yellowknife on their radar and come back.”
Its tourist center offers a variety of outdoor activities at any time of the year, including boat tours, canoeing and kayaking, and guides to see the Northern Lights.
Due to the pandemic last summer, McIntosh said they had to completely change the way they operate, which meant temporarily saying goodbye to foreign visitors and focusing more on locals.
This year, that is starting to change.
“Yellowknife has a lot of domestic travel in the summer [with] people coming here,” McIntosh said, “but of course I’ve met quite a few international travelers.
According to the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, the NWT can attract more than 100,000 visitors a year, with the Northern Lights being one of its main attractions.
Before the pandemic, the tourism industry usually involved 200 million dollars per year — a number that has fallen significantly over the past two years.
The owner of B. Dene Adventures, Bobby Draigiz, said last fall that he had no bookings for cultural tours and workshops at his camp, located in Detta.
“Everybody was dubious about the COVID and all that stuff,” Draigiz said. “We had reservations last August, but then there was a big surge in Yellowknife and everything was canceled.”
While he doesn’t see large groups coming through the doors like he has in the past, he’s been busy this summer with back-to-back bookings in June.
“I used to have 40 or 50 people a night, sometimes a little more, sometimes less. But now I have an order for … 12 people, eight people.”
Draigiz said he hopes business will continue to grow as he receives more phone calls about his upcoming winter tours in December and January.
The tourism industry faces development challenges
Federal Tourism Minister Randy Boissonno is scheduled to visit the Yukon and Northwest Territories this week to discuss the impact of tourism on the local tourist economy.
During his visit to Yellowknife on Wednesday, he spoke to the media about the government’s plan to overhaul the Federal Tourism Development Strategy, which was first announced in 2019.
“We want to make sure that the tourist attractions that are here and that have yet to be developed can be shared with Canadians and the rest of the world,” Boissonno said.
He said the labor restrictions were making it difficult for businesses such as hotels and restaurants in the NWT to operate at full capacity, adding that it was affecting the development of tourist attractions from reaching their potential.
“We have a whole bunch of people coming to touch the Arctic Ocean, but what are they doing there? Where is the hotel? Where is the restaurant?”
Boissonno said he wants to see more investment in NWT Indigenous tourism.
“It’s leading the way in Indigenous tourism, so how can we take the best of what the different nations of the Northwest region have to offer and make that offering accessible to visitors from across Canada and around the world.”
He said the government is working on how to distribute the $24.8 million in funding for the sector announced in the 2022 federal budget and plans to work with the Canadian Indigenous Tourism Association.