Some NWT tourism operators heading into a third year of uncertainty are questioning whether it’s worth it. Lawrence Neyando has decided for now, the answer is no.
When two couples cancelled their bookings for 2022 earlier this week, Neyando concluded there was no point running his business, Arctic Motorcycle Adventures, without any certainty about the year ahead.
“It’s hard to make plans when you don’t know what the hell is going on,” he told Cabin Radio on Thursday.
“I had about three-quarters of my tours booked for 2022 but then, since the government came out that they were not opening leisure travel and with this new variant that’s out, a lot of them started cancelling.
“I don’t have answers. I have clients looking for updates and I don’t have any.”
Neyando said he has now cancelled every planned tour this coming year. His business, based in Inuvik, guides people on motorcycle adventures along the Dempster and Inuvik-Tuk highways, but has been barely able to operate since initial pandemic restrictions descended in early 2020.
Not all companies face the same problems. Neyando described frustration as he watched competitors, based elsewhere, escort people on tours up to the NWT border last summer as the Yukon and southern provinces opened up.
“I’m two hours away and I can’t do anything. That was really frustrating,” said Neyando, who was born and raised in Fort McPherson.
“This is my area. When these companies come in and do this – and they’re planning on doing it again this summer – they’re getting more established in my back yard than I am.”
Meanwhile, Neyando was selling equipment to raise money. He had to sell two of the company’s six bikes at the start of the pandemic to make ends meet, he said, while annual insurance costs are $10,000 and even a business licence can cost $1,500 in a community like Tuktoyaktuk.
“I’m still not totally recovered from the first shutdown, you know?” he said.
Merch is a hit
Neyando said he does not entirely blame the territorial and federal governments – who are “trying to do their part” to keep people safe – but wishes tourism had been handled differently.
The grants for which he was approved were “not nearly enough” to keep the business going, he said, and he felt travel exemptions granted for remote lodges – where tourists can isolate far from communities – should have been made available to his business, too.
“It’s no different than me having clients fly to Whitehorse, bringing them on my motorcycle on the highway, getting them to a hotel, and then them flying out,” he said.
“They could have gone to businesses individually and addressed their needs instead of just totally shutting it down.
“They killed the industry. It’s going to be a tough one to build back.”
The silver lining? Neyando’s Arctic Motorcycle Adventures brand has proved a clothing hit. The apparel side of his business continues to receive orders from as far as the United States.
“Ever since the pandemic started, I’ve been working my butt off pushing the merch to pay the website bill, the monthly bills, the loan,” he said.
“The apparel side did take off. That’s busy, so I’m going to continue with that.
“But I was getting burnt out pushing the merch and figuring out how I was going to plan 2022 tours with no real idea if we were going to be open. So I’m going to pull the pin on this and enjoy next summer with my family.”