EDITORIAL: Chinese tourists will always be welcome

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It’s not likely our territory will find a market for “NWT snow” any time soon, which is too bad because we would all be filthy rich by now and there wouldn’t be any need to prop up our economy with diamond mines or Heaven forbid, 4,700 territorial government employees.

Fortunately, we have stumbled on the next best thing. For two decades now, tourists from Japan and now China, have been coming to Yellowknife in the dead of winter to witness the Northern lights and experience a subarctic climate. The growth in the number of Chinese visitors is particularly impressive.

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment reports that Chinese visitors are the fourth biggest group by country of origin to visit the NWT, followed only by Canada, Japan and the United States. And their numbers are growing fast.

In 2012-13, the NWT reported only 591 visitors from China. By 2016-17, that number had grown to 6,206 – a 950 per cent increase within five years.

With a booming economy and a population of almost 1.4 billion, the possibilities for tourism growth from China were endless, or at least until Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request from the United States and China retaliated by detaining Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and handing down a death sentence to a Canadian found guilty of trafficking drugs in China, Robert Schellenberg.

Suddenly, instead of a cash cow, Canadians are confronted by a menacing wolf bearing its teeth.

Questioned by Yellowknife North MLS Cory Vanthuyne in the legislative assembly last week, Premier Bob McLeod proposed there needed to be “a pause to think” after putting the NWT’s trade mission to China on the “the backburner.”

In this instance, nixing the trip was the only appropriate thing to do. China’s reaction to Canada’s lawful arrest of Wanzhou, a Chinese telecom executive accused by the U.S. of fraud and stealing trade secrets, has been simply appalling and there is no need for provincial and territorial governments to be heading overseas pushing tourism proposals and possibly making things worse.

Given the level of histrionics and duplicity on display by the Chinese government, who knows what problems the NWT trade mission in China would’ve encountered. It wouldn’t be surprising if Chinese officials tried to pressure NWT delegates to support China’s demand for Wanzhou to be set free.

Better to sit this one out until the dispute is resolved.

This is not to say that the territory should discontinue its efforts to attract Chinese tourists. China’s government has shown itself to be malicious and arbitrary, but we still want their citizens to visit our wonderful city, see how people in Canada’s North live and maybe spend a bit of money before they leave.

It is a dicey situation at present. China hasn’t taken away Canada’s “approved destination status,” although it did recently warn its citizens of the possibility of arbitrary arrest in Canada after Canada did the same. Hopefully Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s error-prone government won’t make it more of a mess.

In the meantime, Yellowknife has a product that appeals to millions of people in China. But the city is unprepared. There is no proper visitor’s centre, Mandarin signage is lacking and tourists have complained there is not enough to do.

Chinese-Canadian relations are in the midst of trouble, but that doesn’t mean we should stop building Yellowknife up as a premier tourism destination.

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