Had COVID-19 been a zombie apocalypse, Lawrence Neyando would have been more than ready.
“About two-three weeks before this COVID-19 stuff happened, I designed a T-Shirt with my logo that said ‘Dempster Highway, Zombie Apocalypse’, because the road is so rough,” joked the Arctic Motorcycle Tours owner and operator. “These bikes I use, most professionals that ride around the world would pick this bike because they’re cheap to buy and they’re so reliable, they call it the zombie apocalypse bike. If there ever was a zombie apocalypse, that’s the bike to use.
“But then it turned out we had a pandemic.”
Neyando is one of a number of business people who are making tough calls this summer as the government of the Northwest Territories continues to limit how many people can come up, requiring tour operators to look to local business to keep their books in the black.
Stay-cations may be the staple of the Tourism Industry this summer, but Neyando said he crunched the numbers and decided it was wiser to just wait until next year.
Aside from getting his business in line with new restrictions, Neyando noted he had to renew his tourism operator’s licence from the territory and a business licence all three big municipalities he tours through — Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik and Dawson City.
“They want $2 million in liability insurance, which for me is about $4,000,” he said. “On top of that, I have to pay insurance for six bikes, the Tuk business licence is $1,500…
“So for me to do a stay-cation and hopefully get people from Inuvik and Yellowknife to come on a tour, I would have to do tours every day to make it worthwhile. Not a lot of people are working, so let’s say I have all this insurance and everything else, but nobody signs up?”
Neyando estimates he was out nearly $22,000 in sunk costs, between marketing and cancellations.
Coming right off the heels of the May 15 announcement of Phase one of the Emerging Wisely plan is National Tourism Week, running May 25 to 31. The Town of Inuvik marked the week with daily activities for residents to help get into the tourism spirit.
Contests include cooking contests over Zoom, Geocaching challenges and other family fun activities. Anyone interested should check out the Town’s Facebook page for more information.
Regardless of the town’s efforts to promote tourism in its own backyard, for Neyando, it still amounts to a lost year. He had been hoping to make back his money invested in his tourism business, but instead is selling merchandise to pay down his business loans and preparing for a hopeful return next spring.
Though he admits the situation is frustrating, he says he’s taking it all in stride, noting the situation was not anyone’s fault and he supported keeping the pandemic contained.
“This was my year to get known everywhere. My plan was for the first year, do a few tours and with that money buy some more bikes, then second year push really hard and advertise, go to motorcycle shows and hopefully pay off my loans, then the third year would have been seeing if it was feasible to keep going,” he said. “It’s nobody’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault for wanting to look after its citizens. It’s just the cards we were dealt, it just comes down to how we’re going to deal with it.
“Next summer we could still be going through this. This is totally new for everybody and the thing is we’re all living through it.”
He added he applied for the federal relief program but while that funding moves at the speed of government, he also has put one of his bikes up for sale to cover costs.
In spite of the set-back, business is still looking good. Neyando said he had just negotiated a deal with a global tourism operator to cover all tours from Dawson City to Tuktoyaktuk and he noted customers were helping him out with sales where they could.
In the interim, he’s making the best of the situation — which is to say enjoying the fact he owns six motorcycles.
“I can pick a different colour every day,” he said with a laugh.