Hundreds of tourism jobs lost this year, NWT operators say

Visitors to Norman Wells cross the tarmac at the community's airport in June 2020
Visitors to Norman Wells cross the tarmac at the community's airport in June 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Approaching a thousand full-time and part-time jobs have been lost this year in the NWT’s tourism sector alone, according to survey data collected by the industry.

Tour operators recorded a loss of 443 full-time and 405 part-time positions since Covid-19 closed the territory to visitors in the spring, industry body NWT Tourism said in a report distributed this week.

The report was compiled from interviews with 94 tourism companies – two-thirds of which are considered small businesses with 20 or fewer staff.

More than half had laid off staff and 70 percent said sales and revenue dropped by at least 50 percent. Many said the financial damage was much worse.



Two in five businesses responding to the survey said they had closed, either temporarily or for good.

Cathie Bolstad, NWT Tourism’s chief executive officer, said the data showed tourism had been “hit the hardest” economically by the pandemic.

“Businesses are in business to make a profit, pay their people, put retirement savings away, and invest in capital – in their businesses.

“So when their revenues are hit like that, it’s very difficult for them to operate let alone invest in their business … and do all the things businesses need to do when they’re able to make a profit.”



First staycations data

The survey gave an indication of how summer staycation advertising within the territory has worked.

Government incentives allowed operators to advertise for free to NWT residents – their only realistic audience with travel restrictions in place.

A quarter of businesses responding to the survey said they had participated in the staycation advertising program. Of those, 71 percent still brought in less than half their previous summer’s revenue.

Bolstad said many businesses simply cannot be adapted to deliver equal success with a local audience.

“We’ve got an industry that has been built on … bringing new money into the territory by bringing visitors in from outside of the Territories,” she said.

“Their pricing structures and the products they have built are designed, built, and priced with those customers in mind.

“Northern staycations is helpful but it is never going to make up for the revenue these small businesses get by bringing tourists in from outside the Northwest Territories.”

Bolstad said the survey data signified a long, slow recovery period is ahead for the territory’s tourism sector.



It also demonstrated the importance of government financial assistance, she said.

“If borders don’t open and those customers can’t come in, those businesses need help to survive so that – when travel is safe again – they still exist, can recover, and can take care of visitors that are going to come again,” she said.

NWT Tourism will pair the data with a recently launched public consultation asking residents for their views on how, and when, the organization should resume marketing the territory to tourists.

Bolstad said NWT Tourism’s job would be to “help mobilize this industry” when travel resumes, in part by finding those who will be “the first to travel” and bring them to the territory’s “warm, hospitable, and spectacular destinations.”

“Doing our homework and making sure we have our finger on the pulse is our job now,” she said, “so we’re ready when the time is right.”