Coronavirus
Economy

Aurora Village closes as NWT’s tourism industry shuts down


Aurora Village, a popular attraction outside Yellowknife, suspended all remaining tours as new guidelines terminated almost all international tourism in the NWT.

Chief public health officer Dr Kami Kandola on Sunday asked any symptom-free NWT visitor arriving into Canada in the past 14 days to self-isolate until 14 days had been reached, or leave as soon as possible.

In practice, that guidance means only tourists who have been in Canada for more than two weeks should visit any attractions or take part in any trips. Statistics suggest the average international vacation lasts only 12 to 15 days in total.

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Any new tourists arriving in the NWT would be asked to automatically quarantine themselves for two weeks.

Though real-time tourist numbers are not immediately available, very few new visitors to the territory are expected as borders are closed and travel disrupted worldwide.

Tour operators have acknowledged that the importance of protecting the territory from coronavirus outweighs what could be a hefty economic impact on their industry, with March considered a peak in the tourism calendar.

“Effective immediately, Aurora Village will be suspending all tours for the remainder of the winter season,” the operator announced on Monday.

“We will be contacting all customers travelling pre-14 April 2020 as soon as possible to reschedule plans or issue full refunds.”

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Aurora Village said it would continue to help guests currently in Yellowknife.

“We feel we would be irresponsible to go against the recommendations,” the company said.

‘What will I do?’

The sudden downtown left many in the NWT’s tourism industry wondering how to pay their bills.

“I understand totally that it’s for the greater good, but it’s killing my business,” said Rosanna Strong, who runs Yellowknife-based tour operator Strong Interpretation, on Sunday evening.

Strong said that with “profound sadness” she was closing for the season.

“What will I do? I haven’t really given it much thought,” she said. “Maybe look at other kinds of work? Or just weather this out and see if there is some financial help.”

Strong was conducting tours every day this time last year. She originally had a full slate of bookings for March 2020.

She is down to one booking in the coming week, and even that appeared set to be cancelled following Sunday’s guidance from the chief public health officer.

“I am bleeding cancellations,” she said. “It’s pretty serious for folks in the industry. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple of weeks.”

Other tour operators were holding crisis meetings with staff on Sunday evening, deciding how to approach the remainder of the season with virtually no clients.

NWT Tourism’s executive director, Cathie Bolstad, wrote to operators on Sunday with the latest Covid-19 public health advisory, asking them to urgently read it. Operators will be expected to communicate the detail to any tourists currently in the territory.

“We acknowledge that this advisory creates more uncertainty in our industry,” Bolstad told her members.

“Many visitors that you planned to host, NWT residents and so many others, are affected by this pandemic.”

NWT Tourism, which wrote to the territory’s premier last week seeking emergency assistance for the industry, said it had now approached the federal economic development minister for help.

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