The NWT’s tourism industry is expanding rapidly and the government is taking steps to ensure the important fiscal resource continues to grow, according to officials.
Over the last month, representatives from the department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) have been traveling the territory looking for input from the communities on ways to diversify tourism as a commercial industry, laying the bricks for the Tourism 2020 strategic plan.
“We are here to get input from the tourism stakeholders in the NWT about what they think we should be doing going forward in the next five years and beyond,” said Kwame Neba, manager, of tourism services with ITI, at a community meeting in Fort Smith on Oct. 28. He said the new plan will build on the successful foundations of the Tourism 2010 and 2015 plans.
Increasing investments into the industry have made it exponentially stronger over time. After injecting an additional $1.2 million in the industry last year, according to a statement made by ITI Minister David Ramsay in the Legislative Assembly on Oct. 28, visitor spending in the territory rose by 24 per cent to $132.5 million over the 2013-14 fiscal year, up from $106.7 million the year before.
As such, tourism accounts for the largest renewable economic resource in the territory.
According to Ramsay, the biggest tourism dollars come from travelers looking to view the stunning auroras of the North and business people looking to strike deals in the territory. Visitors in those two categories grew over the last five years by 38 and 47 per cent, respectively.
Communities facing similar challenges
One of the underlying goals for Tourism 2020 is taking tourism out of the capital and encouraging visitors to explore communities in various regions.
When the researchers visited Fort Smith, they said the town’s draws were obvious: Stunning auroras and a certified dark sky preserve, the vast expanse of Wood Buffalo National Park with its endangered whooping cranes and roaming bison, the rushing rapids that line up along the Slave River and the welcoming Northern Life Museum that makes traditional activities from local Aboriginal cultures accessible to all were all identified as the community’s strong points.
But the numerous challenges faced by the local tourism industry are the same across the Northwest Territories, Neba said.
The obstacles identified were cyclical: A lack of education opportunities in business and tourism, as well as complex bureaucratic application systems for tourism operator licences, means that even when organizations like Parks Canada and the museum create visitor programming, there is a lack of guides or outfitters available to carry out activities.
Because of this lack of human capital, it’s difficult to properly market the programs that do exist, Neba said.
On top of this, methods of transportation throughout the vast regions can be expensive, creating barriers for tourists wanting to stop at some of the more isolated communities.
At the end of the day, attendees at the meeting agreed that ongoing improvement in the tourism industry means investing in the communities, so the people that live there can share the wonderful aspects of their day-to-day lives with visitors.
“Focus it at the community-based, grassroots level,” said Rob Kent, superintendent for the southwest NWT Field Unit at Parks Canada. “We don’t care how we get the successes as long as we get successes. We know the products are here.”
ITI is hoping to have the Tourism 2020 strategy completed for early 2015, as they wrap up the Tourism 2015 initiative.
To give input for Tourism 2020, fill out a survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TOURISM2020 before Nov. 14.