Pat and Dianne Brooks have their fingers on the pulse of tourism in Dawson, and by their account — and several others — the industry is healthy in the Klondike town.
The Brooks’ Gold Rush Campground for RVs sits in the centre of Dawson. A prime destination for visitors, it also serves as a good indicator of the pace of the town’s tourist traffic.
The number of sites occupied in a day in May, June and July is up four per cent compared to last year, and visitors are staying an average of three days.
And there’s a noticeable difference in nationality.
“We’re seeing more Canadians coming as opposed to Americans,” said Pat in an interview with the News.
“They’ve always looked to Alaska as the last frontier and have included Dawson up or on the way back. But more and more Canadians are discovering us.”
After buying the campground in 2002, the couple has also seen many repeat visitors from overseas.
“Those are the people that tend to return time and time again,” said Pat. “It might be two years or three years later, but they’ve really fallen in love with the North.”
Elsewhere in Dawson, businesses and tourists stops indicate numbers are strong.
A main destination for tourists, the Danoja Zho Cultural Centre has seen a significant increase in visits compared to 2006, said Freda Roberts, program co-ordinator.
In May, 600 people stopped at the centre; 3,500 people stopped in June and another 2,600 in July, increasing the total number of visits by 25 per cent over last year.
Walk-ins, shoppers and tours have all increased the numbers, said Roberts.
She tries to keep a constant rotation of exhibits and performances to bring people back for multiple visits, she said.
But there are still some unknowns.
“I don’t know what I’m doing right, but I better keep doing it,” said Roberts, adding that Dawson itself is the attraction for tourists.
“Everything’s different in Dawson,” said Roberts. “It’s the end of the road. You either go to Alaska or turn around. You can pass through Whitehorse. Dawson is a must-stop place. It’s really unique.”
Feedback from businesses and tourism centres in Dawson has been positive this year, said Klondike Visitors Association marketing manager Bill Holmes.
“The overall commentary from operators is that they are fairly happy with the season so far,” said Holmes.
“Usually, by this point in the year, people have a good idea of where their businesses are.
“If there was anything going south, I would have heard it by now and we’re hearing some very positive feedback.”
More than 11 per cent fewer private vehicles, including RVs and motor homes, crossed the border into the Yukon in May, according to Yukon Tourism and Culture statistics.
June numbers are still being crunched, according to the department.
Currency parity and high gas prices have slowed the RV market, making it a challenge for local businesses, but many people had made plans for their trip three or four years ago and are not allowing gas prices to change plans, said Holmes.
“And if you’re driving a $250,000 land yacht, a couple extra thousand dollars for gas won’t dissuade you from coming to the Yukon,” he added.
Gas prices play only a small role in destination decisions, said Pat Brooks.
“If you fly or get on a cruise ship, you’re paying a fuel surcharge,” he said. “I think people have rationalized the fact that it’s not going to get any cheaper next year so they might as well do it now.
“Frankly, if you’re a visitor from Germany or France, you would stand in front of our desk and say, ‘I love it over here. The cost of fuel so reasonable.’”
The visitors association runs Diamond Tooth Gerties’ Casino and Jack London’s cabin, both popular tourist stops, which have seen a slight increase in visitors, said Holmes. He did not provide numbers and said most places wouldn’t have hard numbers until October.
While private tickets sales are down about 50 per cent at the Dawson City Museum, sales through Holland America are up 37 per cent, which makes out to a slight increase in overall attendance at the museum, said executive director Laura Mann.
“We are doing marginally better than last year,” Mann said.
On average, 12,000 to 14,000 visitors pass through the museum’s large wooden doors from May to August.
“The gold rush still fascinates people,” said Mann. “We have someone stop in literally everyday looking to search our records for information on a relative who came up the Chilkoot as part of the rush.”
This year the museum is focusing on becoming more relevant to the people living in Dawson year-round by offering more off-season programs.
“We’re thrilled the Holland American visits are up, but now we’re concentrating on getting winter visitation up so we’re not just relying on summer months,” said Mann.
Lenore Calnan has owned and operated Raven’s Nook clothing store for 26 years and has seen tourism grow and decline through the years.
This year, however, has been a good year for her store.
“The way my stock is moving out of here, I’m guessing tourism is about the same (compared to 2006),” said Calnan.
“We do have off days, but those are offset by the days we have bus tours coming through. You get soft days, then you get good ones.”
Tourism in Dawson has been an ongoing evolution and has seen steady, if not large, growth for at least the last couple of years, said Calnan
More Canadians are also coming up, and gas prices, currency parity and passport regulations haven’t had a negative impact on Calnan’s business.
“We’re getting more people coming back — from the States, from Germany,” she said. “One fellow from Hamburg (was) in here yesterday and has been coming to Dawson for 25 years.”