Business groups call for loosening of travel restrictions to save tourism industry

A group of business groups are calling on the GNWT to focus on the economy while reopening. One of the recommendations involves letting Canadians from other parts of the country visit without quarantining. (Photo courtesy of Anson Chappell licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

After 30 years in business, tour operator Strong Interpretation closed permanently as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, Rosanna Strong, the company’s owner, says she realized it wouldn’t be feasible to survive a summer without any clients arriving from outside the Northwest Territories.

Despite closing, she says she has countless positive memories from her time running tours.

“I’m very proud of what I’ve done and I’ll miss it greatly,” she says. “Just the opportunity to see the place that I love through the eyes of a visitor and to fall in love with the place that I live, everyday.”

More businesses may end up following suit, according to a joint statement issued by five business groups.

The group is calling on the GNWT to focus on the economy while reopening.

The news release provides recommendations to the GNWT and was issued by NWT Tourism, Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, NWT Chamber of Commerce, NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines and NWT and Nunavut Construction Association.

One of the recommendations includes loosening travel restrictions.

Travel restrictions

The current restrictions force anyone entering the NWT to quarantine for 14 days, largely discouraging any tourists.

“I feel like it’s going to be a pretty negative impact because [tour operators] solely rely on people coming through our border for their revenue,” says Jenni Bruce, president of the NWT Chamber of Commerce.

In 2017, visitors to the NWT pumped $203.4 million into the economy, according to the Northwest Territories Tourism (NWTT) marketing plan.

In August 2019, former MLA Wally Schulman identified the tourism industry as an opportunity to diversify the economy.

As a response to the pandemic staycation campaigns are being promoted, encouraging northerners to take advantage of the tour operators the NWT has to offer.

However, Bruce doesn’t believe this will be enough.

“There are great promotions out there that I think are appreciated for staycations and staying within the territory. But there’s no way that that’s going to fill the void of 72,000 visitors,” she says.

Bruce adds, creating a Canada-wide travel bubble would allow for tourism operators to make up some of their losses.

The NWT currently has a travel bubble with Nunavut, but with the number of COVID-19 cases decreasing across the country, allowing travel across Canada could be done safely, she says.

The European Union has done a similar travel bubble, allowing residents of member nations — and residents from 14 additional countries, including Canada — to travel freely.

Government funding

The GNWT created the BDIC Deferred Loan Payments which gives tourism operators until March 2021 to repay loans.

Strong says additional government financial support could help some tourism operators, but when there’s no income in the foreseeable future, it doesn’t solve the issue.

“Sure it’s great to get more money, but what you’re being offered is loans and if you have no income coming in, what’s the point of going further into debt,” Strong says. “I don’t want to take money anymore, I want to work.”

Even if the government does grant more funding, Bruce says tourism operators have already suffered as a result of the imposed restrictions.

“I think your summer season operators are going to be in some real trouble because we’re already into their season,” she says. “Our next phase is of course the Aurora season which starts in August and if the borders are still not open for that, I think it’s going to be pretty challenging for them to recover even with assistance.”

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Joint statement by business groups

The release issued by the five business groups applauds the GNWT for its initial response to the pandemic as well as some of the early economic reliefs the government provided.

But adds the COVID-19 response has come at “a heavy price and it is getting worse every day.”

The release says the business leaders fear there is no sense of urgency to reopen because of the strong impact of the public service on the economy.

The release also accused GNWT of relinquishing many of its governing responsibilities to Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola.

The release requested the GNWT:

  • Reveal to the public what the economic price tag to date on the NWT has been.
  • Ease travel and quarantine restrictions for those entering the territory, even if not uniformly across the NWT.
  • Welcome GNWT employees back to the workplace in a manner consistent with the private sector.
  • Provide consistent and prompt answers from the CPHO on how her office will interpret rules and grant exemptions to those rules.
  • Ensure consistent and accurate messaging regarding the public health emergency.

CKLB Radio is expecting a response from the GNWT to the letter.

 

About the Author

Luke Carroll
Luke Carroll is a journalist originally from Brockville, Ont. He is happy to call the Northwest Territories home and is always listening for stories that matter to the community. He has previously worked as a reporter and editor in Ottawa, Halifax and New Brunswick. If you have a story idea, feel free to send him an email at luke.carroll@cklbradio.com.