The Wal-Mart parking lot may see, God forbid, even more RVs next summer if Suzanne de la Barre and Teresa Earle get their way.
These local tourism consultants plan to present the Winnebago highway with a whole new brand of tourism in the North.
“Nature and wellness tourism is a hot niche and we’ve got it all here,” said Earle.
“We already get all the nature enthusiasts up here, and those tourists are usually concerned with wellness as well.”
With several yoga studios, day spas and a growing number of massage practitioners, Whitehorse has a lot to offer tourists seeking holistic holidays.
“Wellness is already a big part of Yukoners’ lifestyles,” said Earle.
“Now it is just a matter of combining the best of wellness and nature opportunities to mutually enhance the local tourism product.”
Several years ago, Earle went on a high-end, backcountry-rafting trip down the Alsek River.
One of the guides on her trip was a certified yoga instructor.
“It was pure coincidence, the company didn’t plan that; they hired her as a guide,” said Earle.
This guide offered guests yoga on the beach every evening.
And in the morning, after the group donned its lifejackets, she would lead stretching exercises.
“That is an excellent example of how you bring together the nature-based experience and the wellness experience,” said Earle.
“And it is a really unique thing for us up here, compared to other places, because people expect a really high-quality nature-based experience and then there is this lifestyle we have in the Yukon that really positions us well to capitalize on what we have identified as being a priority for Yukoners, which is life’s wellness and health.
“It is a really natural fit and what we are trying to do is build an awareness around this potential and then promote collaboration between the two.”
Although owner of Kanoe People Scott McDougall agrees that such collaboration could be very rewarding, he prefers to run simple, flexible trips.
“In a sense, being out there in the wilderness is already a wellness activity on its own,” he said.
His cabins on Lake Laberge were recently featured in a high-profile German outdoor magazine highlighting wellness destinations.
The German writer and the photographer spent six days on the lake’s shore alone in one of McDougall’s cabins.
But they didn’t take any classes or attend any wellness workshops. They just relaxed in the bush.
“It was just about getting away,” explained McDougall.
“Being able to unplug from the fast pace and plug into the reverse, just getting back to the basics, throwing your own stick in the fire, fetching water, it gives you a great appreciation for what you’ve done.”
What’s really important is the peace, the scenery and the quiet, he said.
“It is a very refreshing and healing experience.”
So, what happens if wellness instructors join these wilderness excursions?
The big concern for McDougall is the introduction of schedules.
“We can’t chop our trips up into little schedules,” he said.
“We can have activities that take place, but when and how they take place is dictated by the way the trip unfolds.
“It all depends on the wind or the day. We might end up watching a moose for half an hour on a bend in the river, and we’ll have lunch when we’re hungry.”
McDougall is not adverse to the possibility of yoga sessions on his trips, but feels the wilderness experience is rewarding enough in and of itself.
“People might not be into yoga, but sitting watching the sun rise over the water in the morning drinking coffee, it’s already there,” he said.
However, there’s a market for wellness tourism in the North and Robin Anderson, co-owner of Latitude Destination Management, has been tapping it for the last three years.
Catering to conference attendees and recipients of corporate holiday reward packages, Anderson’s business offers unique wellness tourism opportunities.
“A lot of these corporate holidays focus on spa retreats, like the Banff Springs Hotel,” Anderson said.
“We don’t have a big spa up here, so we are forced to be more creative and focus more on the wellness side.”
But this has actually worked in the territory’s favour.
The wellness element differentiates the Yukon as a tourism destination — it’s a strong draw, he explained.
At first blush a construction company may see the Yukon as a good place to take its workers for a fishing holiday, but the territory is more multi-dimensional than that, he continued.
“Unlike places like Campbell River, where fishing trips consist of sitting around drinking scotch and smoking cigars, the Yukon offers more of a connection with the land and with yourself.”
Latitude Destination offers a fishing trip for directors and spouses. While half the group fishes, the other half will go out with a gourmet chef to pick cranberries and morel mushrooms.
At the end of the day the two groups meet to prepare a feast with the fish, mushrooms and berries.
“We are in the same ballpark as places like Banff, but offer cooler and more unique holidays,” said Anderson.
His company offers clients a series of other distinctive opportunities including pinhole photography workshops, herb walks, Dawson City art classes, sunrise yoga on top of Grey Mountain, and Yukon Survivor, in which participants learn to build traditional First Nations shelters and fish traps.
Latitude Destinations in currently booking a spring session for Grand and Toy’s corporate workers, who will be visiting the Yukon in May.
Earle and de la Barre will be hosting a two-day nature and wellness tourism innovators workshop on January 20th and 21st at the High Country Inn.
They have garnered support from the department of Tourism and Culture, the Canadian Tourism Commission, Yukon Holistic Health Network and several other organizations.
For more information on the conference contact Tourism Industry Association Yukon at 668-3331.