NWT Tourism urges premier to help struggling operators

A file photo of Yellowknife Airport in November 2018. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
A file photo of Yellowknife Airport in November 2018. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Northern tour operators hit by the coronavirus pandemic need emergency assistance to stay afloat, NWT Tourism has told the territorial government.

The chair of NWT Tourism, which represents operators across the territory, said on Friday he had written to Premier Caroline Cochrane with a list of eight actions needed to help operators facing “great uncertainty regarding the near future.”

In an update sent to tour operators, chair Harold Grinde said his tourism body “continues to be very concerned about the current impact of coronavirus on the tourism industry, and the potential future impact as this situation changes by the hour.”

“We are hearing from various members about direct impacts on their business from cancellations,” the message to operators continued.



“I appreciate that everyone in the tourism industry is currently balancing the need to do business with the need to be responsible citizens contributing to the health and safety of staff, visitors, and the public.”

Grinde and his family operate Gana River Outfitters in the Mackenzie Mountains.

Grinde said he had written to Cochrane requesting “the establishment of an emergency contingency fund to help mitigate the economic impacts felt by the industry.”

The letter to the premier also asks the NWT to financially assist Destination Canada, the federal tourism body, in doing more to promote Canada to American tourists “if travel between the United States and Canada is not affected.” NWT Tourism also wants more done to promote domestic travel when appropriate.O



Other requests in the letter are:

  • stimulus funding to help the territory’s tourism industry once the pandemic is over;
  • support for employers with employees using immigration programs to earn permanent residency, ensuring businesses can “manage their financial commitments to this program during the pandemic;”
  • support for seasonal workers like paddling and outdoor adventure guides, “whose summer seasons are critical for their annual income;”
  • investments in training for employers who must lay off staff as a “survival strategy;”
  • and “clear direction … regarding general travel for work and guidelines for hosting guests from Canada and abroad.”

“We know from experience with the SARS outbreak that tourism can bounce back very quickly,” Grinde wrote to operators, “but the Northwest Territories must be able to capitalize on the opportunity as soon as it presents itself.”

The territorial government has yet to address whether, or how, it will provide additional economic supports for tour operators or other industries.

On Saturday morning, in an emailed update to reporters, the territory said it was “working with NWT Tourism to communicate with licensed tourism operators across the NWT” and had provided guidance from the chief public health officer to operators and their guests.

On Monday, NWT politicians will gather to sign off on an interim budget providing the territorial government’s various departments with enough money to remain functional for the next three months.

The legislature will then suspend itself until May – allowing the NWT government more time to focus on coronavirus readiness – meaning opportunities to devise and approve specific stimulus plans will be limited.