This small business week, we have some positive stories on how some of our homegrown businesses have managed to survive the economic shockwaves of the Covid-19 pandemic with a little creativity.
This comes amidst news that the our “Northern Staycation” initiative didn’t quite fill the revenue gap lost when the territory closed its borders.
A survey by NWT Tourism found that 848 jobs have been lost since the pandemic hit – which equates to close to two per cent of the population put out of work. Tourism operators are reporting up to 100 per cent loss of revenue. For businesses that rely chiefly on people coming into the territory for their livelihood, the outlook is pretty bleak.
None of this came as a surprise to the surveyors, with outgoing NWT Tourism CEO Cathie Bolstad saying it told them what they suspected all along.
Reasonably speaking, Northern Staycation was never expected to fill the void, nor should it have been. But I think it was also severely hampered by a serious logistical problem – lack of roads makes getting around the territory prohibitively expensive.
For the purposes of this column I used Google Flights to see what it would cost to take a round trip to some areas around the territory. The only price I could get a listing for was for Yellowknife and that was $836. Factor in hotels and transportation costs to get wherever you’re going from there and we’re already closing in on $2,000 without even actually “vacationing.” Oh and I’m not even accounting for kids, pets or other dependents.
Most people who work normal jobs don’t have four to five thousand dollars to drop on a vacation and any savings put towards such expenditures likely were repurposed for dealing with the pandemic emergency.
What would have been doable for a lot of NWT residents are road trips. Many Northerners either have larger vehicles or access to them, providing a reasonable means of taking a family vacation.
Getting out of Inuvik and visiting, say, Hay River, would have been a feasible option for a lot of people – if there was an affordable way to get there.
Right now, beyond the day trips to Tuktoyaktuk, Tsiigehtchic and Fort McPherson, there really is nowhere for the average earner to get to except the Yukon, which then requires a 14-day period of isolation upon return. In spite of that, people still routinely take trips to our neighbour’s capital to shop. The Dempster may not be the Trans-Canada Trail, but it’s still a feasible option for anyone with a good set of wheels.
The GNWT should take this as a lesson learned and push for a widespread expansion of roads between population centres. With efforts to bring electric infrastructure on Ottawa’s shortlist, working with the Yukon to build a road network should be an easy sell.
Even using gasoline, the greenhouse gas emissions would be far lower than from air traffic, helping reduce Canada’s net emissions. Jobs from the projects would help out-of-work people rebuild their lives while they build the territory while businesses in currently isolated communities would welcome new customers.
If the GNWT wants to keep money within its borders, it has to give its residents the means to do so.