One of the biggest tour operators in the Northwest Territories is doing something new as aurora season starts: targeting locals.
As the Covid-19 pandemic restricts travel to the territory, Aurora Village is abandoning a business model focused primarily on international tourists in favour of NWT residents.
“A lot of people I talked to from Yellowknife have actually never been out here,” chief executive Mike Morin told Cabin Radio. “[They’ve] never been able to experience what we’ve built here.
“We’re actually excited for this opportunity to share it with the North. Normally we’d be spoiling guests from all over the world, but now we get to share that with our community.”
Located 25 minutes from Yellowknife down the Ingraham Trail, Aurora Village has been a tourist destination since 2000, offering aurora viewing and dogsledding.
According to Morin, the company welcomes 20,000 to 25,000 tourists a year, the vast majority international.
Aurora Village isn’t alone in historically relying almost entirely on foreign visitors. Joe Bailey of North Star Adventures and Amanda Peterson of Backyard Tours in Yellowknife each said “99.9 percent” of their customers are from outside the territory, making this year’s tourism forecast bleak.
Morin concedes Aurora Village has faced its share of challenges this year, with Covid-19 shutting down its winter season prematurely.
However, Morin said the continuing uncertainty allowed the company to step back from its normal programming and try new things.
Mike Morin, CEO of Aurora Village. Meaghan Brackenbury/Cabin Radio
“It’s a blank canvas at this point,” Morin said. “There’s so much we can do.
“Right now, the focus is on food. We’re looking into possibility of entertainment, and we do have a huge, exclusive site. We’ve got walking trails. Once snow hits the ground, there’s a lot more we can do. We have 80 dogs on-site that we’re gonna start training right away. We have to do that anyway. So hopefully, people will come out for that.
“There’s a lot of ideas going around. I’s just we have to think out of the box right now.”
Though he’s excited to try new things, Morin said he is working to keep staff employed despite pandemic restrictions.
Normally at this time of year, Aurora Village employs about 110 staff members. Right now, it has only 25.
“Our number-one priority right now is keeping as much of our staff working as we can,” he said. “I think the biggest challenge is just gonna be the numbers. So, we really need the support of the community to do that.
“We have a saying: Our guests come thousands of miles to see us, the least we can do is go the extra mile for them. So, we’re excited to do that for our community.”
Aurora Village officially reopened to NWT residents on September 17. The kitchen and dining hall is up and running and customers can book individual tipis for dining.
All bookings can be made online at the Aurora Village website, or by calling (867) 669-0006.
This coverage of the NWT’s business sector during the Covid-19 pandemic is sponsored by the NWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment. Visit Buy North for more information on businesses near you.