Chinese tourists could soon be taking tours of Yellowknife, admiring the aurora, and checking out Cameron Falls – from the comfort of their homes.
Raven Tours, a family-owned tour and activity company based in Yellowknife, plans to launch virtual tours online in the coming weeks. Covid-19 restrictions mean international travellers can’t currently visit the NWT.
“If people can’t come to Yellowknife, then there’s no tourism, essentially,” explained Raven Tours’ Elizabeth Ewen.
“It’s been different trying to find a new way to still embrace Yellowknife and promote tourism.”
Cameron Falls in June 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Ewen said the company was inspired by Airbnb’s Online Experiences – live, interactive video sessions hosted on Zoom, featuring experiences ranging from a virtual guided hike of Japan’s Mount Fuji to a tango lesson in Argentina.
Some of Raven Tours’ virtual adventures will be self-guided, so clients can click through different videos at their own pace, Ewen said. The company also plans to host live tours, where a guide will answer questions in real time.
“The main challenge is trying to capture the tour through video,” Ewen said. “When it’s live … you’re there with people. It’s a whole different kind of atmosphere.”
Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty hopes the virtual tours will spark people’s interest in visiting the city when it is safe to travel again.
“The entrepreneurial spirit I think is alive and well with how people are adapting to the trying times of Covid,” she said.
“If you’re stuck in confinement this might be the great activity to lift your spirits.
“I know I was reading novels and stuff set in different places, just to kind-of get a bit of that travel bug out.”
Downtown Yellowknife in early July 2020. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Farther south, Hay River has invented a unique way of promoting tourism in the South Slave.
The town’s Hay-Cation initiative encourages NWT residents to spend their summer holidays in the region.
“It’s been amazing,” said Peter Magill, Hay River’s tourism and economic development officer.
“The feedback’s been wonderful. People are genuinely loving the South Slave.”
While he doesn’t have the exact number of people who have visited the region this summer so far, Magill said nearby parks have been full.
Alty said she has seen lots of photos on social media of residents enjoying summer vacations across the territory.
The Hay River at the Escarpment Creek lookout near Enterprise, NT, in June 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
“I didn’t know how many people would take up the staycation idea, but it seems folks are embracing it and checking out a lot of the South Slave,” she said.
Magill said Hay River’s tourism market has been growing since 2017, with visitors coming from other parts of Canada, the US, Europe, and Asia.
In 2019, he said, 4,094 people came through Hay River’s visitor centre. So far in 2020, the centre has seen 402 visitors, predominantly from Canada, plus some visitors who came from Europe and the US before the pandemic hit.
In March, Hay River passed its tourism development plan to promote and increase tourism over the next three years.