With tourism one of the sectors hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic, the NWT government has set ambitious goals to help the industry not only recover but grow in the coming years.
Caroline Wawzonek, the tourism minister, tabled the territory’s latest five-year tourism strategy – titled Tourism 2025: Roadmap to Recovery – in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday. It sets out plans to invest in infrastructure and increase tourism beyond Yellowknife.
Specifically, the strategy sets the goal of growing the number of new tourism operators in regions outside the capital by five percent. By 2025-26, the territory hopes to welcome 103,000 visitors generating an anticipated $170 million. (The document states those targets may be revised if uncertainty about travel restrictions lingers.)
“The world wants to come to the Northwest Territories,” Wawzonek told the legislature, noting that Yellowknife was named one of National Geographic’s dream destinations for post-pandemic travel.
“It will take time and it will take work, but we will recover. Our borders will open and the Northwest Territories will once again take its place as a spectacular tourism destination.”
The tourism strategy sets out four priorities:
- investing in infrastructure, developing new products and services, and making the existing ones better;
- building capacity among operators and tourism staff through training and mentorship;
- engaging with people involved in tourism through better communication and marketing; and
- getting the right data to guide where money is spent.
Included within those priorities are plans to upgrade visitor information centres, fund workshops and training for youth and Indigenous tourism business development, and collaborations with partners like Destination Canada.
When travel restrictions came into effect in early 2020, tourism businesses were among the first to feel the effects of the pandemic as the industry came to a standstill.
By the end of March last year, more than three quarters of tour operators had closed, reduced staff hours, or laid off employees. By October, tour operators reported the loss of 443 full-time and 405 part-time positions.
Compared to other sectors, businesses related to tourism on average lost 13 percent more revenue and had to lay off 22 percent more employees.
Wawzonek said despite the challenges, there have been some tourism successes during the pandemic – including the promotion of staycations to NWT residents.
“Our campaigns did more than generate much-needed revenue. It awakened us, as northerners, collectively to be better customers and ambassadors of our own tourism product,” she said.