Inuvik is ramping up for a huge tourist season this summer, and laying the groundwork for more sustained tourism in the region.
For the first time ever, the economic development and tourism department at the Town of Inuvik has three full-time staff, including manager Jackie Challis, assistant Heather Moses and Kaylie-Anne Hummel, the recently-hired tourism and marketing coordinator from Mayo, Yukon.
In addition, a group of tourism stakeholders continues to meet every month to share plans, ideas and coordinate activities. The group includes representatives from Parks Canada, the GNWT, the Town of Inuvik, Up North Tours, the Inuvialuit Regional Corp., the Inuvik Community Greenhouse, the Inuvialuit Community and Economic Development Organization and local MLAs’ offices.
“A couple years ago we made a concerted effort to pull the group together,” Challis said. “Everyone in this room is doing so many things. I come away from these meetings and I’m like, ‘This is why we do what we do.’”
At the meeting, Challis highlighted one of the Town of Inuvik’s main focuses – social media – and the success they’ve been having promoting the region.
Their Facebook page, Inuvik NWT Canada, now has more than 2,200 likes, and a recent post of the reindeer herd crossing reached more than 7,000 people.
The day after the post went up, Challis even received a call from Nova Scotia from a man saying he was changing his family’s vacation plans.
“They said, ‘We were going to go somewhere else but now we want to go there,’” Challis recounted.
The idea to engage social media head-on came from the tourism stakeholder group, which held a workshop about a year ago with Think! Social Media. The workshop included an audit of Inuvik as a destination and what it looked like online.
“At that time there wasn’t much,” Challis said. “There wasn’t a central voice.”
The Town of Inuvik completed a marketing plan with Think! and had a soft launch of its page in November 2013. The main launch was at Sunrise Festival in January, and Hummel has taken over the feed since being hired on earlier this year.
In addition to bolstering Inuvik’s social media presence, Challis hopes to engage locals in a Tourism Ambassador Training Program similar to ones run in BC. It would include certification for frontline, hospitality training that includes how to provide good service and answer questions, but also incorporate a sense of place, history and pride.
“This summer we’re going to have so many people from all over, and we need volunteers,” she said. The Inuvik Petroleum Show usually needs 50 to 70 volunteers, and the upcoming Inuit Circumpolar Council General Assembly will need hundreds.
“It is a goal of ours to have a group that’s representative of the Aboriginal groups and the non-Aboriginal people in Inuvik, that are ambassadors that are really here. ‘This is where I live. This is what my life is like,’” she explained.
“It’s not just for visitors. When there’s things happening and a vibrant community to live in, people are excited to visit and excited to be a part of whatever that local energy is.”
The main goal for tourism remains increased visitation.
“That’s a goal for any destination,” Challis said. “Increased visitation, not just in numbers but also in quality experiences, so that people who come here are walking away with a really memorable experience.”
Challis said the challenge to building sustained tourism in the region is the same for many other Northern communities – price.
“It’s not a surprise, it’s not anything we’re trying to hide, it’s just a reality of being in the North,” she said. “It is a challenge, when in Edmonton you can fly direct to Iceland and have an Arctic experience for less than what it takes for us to get to Yellowknife.”
Upcoming tourist draws
The community kiosk at Jim Koe Park, where visitors can pop in, ask questions, and purchase Town of Inuvik merchandise, will likely be open from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. three days per week.
A new banner reading “Welcome to Inuvik” will span Mackenzie Road, while vertical banners are being placed near Jim Koe Park and the Midnight Sun Recreation Complex.
Events this summer include the Great Northern Arts Festival from July 11 to 20, the Inuit Circumpolar Council General Assembly from July 21 to 24, the Circumpolar Northern Games from July 21 to 27 and Oceans Day on July 20.
The Arctic Market, which kicked off last year, will open every Saturday starting June 21 through to the first weekend of September.