While every industry in the North has experienced serious disruptions from the Covid-19 pandemic, none have been impacted as severely or profoundly as the tourism industry, which has effectively been shut down since March.
Even with the Northern stay-cation initiative, the industry has been largely stagnant. In an effort to regroup, the Inuvik Tourism Stakeholder committee met online via Zoom Sept. 17 to re-orient their strategy.
“It started out looking like 2020 was going to be the best year ever,” said outgoing NWT Tourism CEO Cathy Bolstad. “In just a matter of days things came grinding to a halt.
“This has been my most challenging year at NWT Tourism, and not just mine but for our team as well. Our role has always been to keep the dream alive for our destination in the traveler that’s planning and keep our destination on the map in a very globally competitive series of destinations.
“When you can’t travel and the world is ground to a halt traveling, our role becomes how in the heck do we make sure we’re respecting the public health orders and protecting the people of the NWT, but we’re keeping the dream alive when the time is right that people will come back.”
She said the department made a 90 degree pivot when the borders to the rest of the country were closed in their marketing, instead pointing potential tourists to border issues and making sure people were aware of the new rules. NWT tourism was now working to keep ongoing contacts with key markets to keep opportunities open for when the borders open.
Part of the issue, she explained, was that if borders remain closed to key tourism markets like the United States, Canada’s tourism market would be largely limited to Canadians.
“We will all be chasing the same reduced size of visitors,” she said. “Our shift has changed to search engine optimization and we developed the Response, Recovery and Resilience framework, outlining what were the signals we needed to watch for and the things we need to do as a marketer.
“As well as what we need from government in terms of supports to make sure this industry can pivot and recover again.”
Adding she was proud of the work NWT Tourism had done, Bolstad said her staff had been putting in a lot of overtime to make sure the NWT was ready for when the border re-opened. She added the NWT was examining the results of its Northern Stay-cation initiative and was putting together a presentation to show how it worked.
Summarizing what the presentation would highlight, Bolstad said the revenue generated from NWT stay-cationers did not come close to the revenue generated by the average 140,000 tourists the territory normally sees in a given year.
“We see across Canada and the Northwest Territories that Covid-19 has changed people’s view of tourism,” she noted. “There is fear associated with travel and Covid-19.”
The next step will be to survey tourism and hospitality operators in the NWT to determine how bad the damage was and how ready they would be to receive a volume of tourists when restrictions are loosened, and then figure out what is needed to get people back to normal.
Another change happening this year is the Tourism Board’s annual general meeting will be held over Zoom in November, instead of as part a tourism conference in Hay River as originally planned. Coupled with the AGM will be a separate open Zoom call from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Nov. 2 with Destination Canada to share research. Bolstad said she expected to have data on how the NWT tourism industry has been affected ready for that meeting.
The next day, at the same time Destination Canada will do a presentation to explain how they will help the NWT move forward with tourism.
Also planned for November and December are two workshops that were in planning before the pandemic — one on how to maximize tourism in the winter season and the other on culinary tourism.