Aurora borealis sparkles for potential Chinese tourists

Aurora borealis sparkles for potential Chinese tourists
Angela Law, owner of Yellowknife Tours, holds up her catch at Trout Rock Lodge during a fishing excursion last year. Law’s tours cater to Mandarin and Cantonese speaking tourists.Photo: Briony Wright.

Chinese tourists looking for adventure, culture and the beauty of the aurora borealis will be considering the Northwest Territories first if the GNWT has anything to say about it.

Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) Minister David Ramsay and MLA Robert Hawkins lost no opportunity to tout the beauty of the NWT as a tourism destination during the government’s trade mission to China last week.

“We are proud to share our traditional Arctic lifestyles with visitors and help the world to understand our territory’s unique cultures,” Ramsay said in a press release.

“Our new contacts in China have told us they are very interested in the NWT’s cultural getaways, awe-inspiring natural landscapes and authentic Aboriginal art,” he said.

The minister and MLA attended meetings and presentations with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Associations of Travel Agents and the Canadian Tourism Commission in Beijing to expand connections in the tourism industry.

The GNWT has been eying the Chinese tourist market for years, according to Jackie Frederick, interim executive director of NWT Tourism.

“We have barely scraped the surface of this market,” Frederick said. “It’s one market of a number that we cater to, but this is one that really shows a ton of potential down the road.”

Last year, ITI approved an NWT Tourism budget increase of $1.2 million, part of which went towards launching a massive Chinese marketing campaign. The long-term goal is to increase the value of the tourism industry to $130 million by 2015.

“The one thing that you’ll find with the Asian countries is that they will do a lot of research on things that they are interested in and media plays a big role in their decision,” Frederick said.

The aurora light show is the biggest selling feature for the Asian tourist market, she said. “It’s considered a very romantic thing, so a lot of the Japanese or Chinese would tie that into a honeymoon excursion.”

The NWT recently staked its claim as the “Aurora Capital of the World” at a ceremony in Vancouver. The Chinese tourism campaign capitalizes on this title as a way to draw tourists, Frederick said.

She said the idea of seeing the dancing aurora draws tourists to check out their website and tours, where other activities such as ice fishing, snowmobiling and dog sledding seal the deal.

“They want the Canadian Northern experience,” she said. “The more they can get outside and into the cold and doing the activities, the better.”

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