Businesses vie to fill Parks Canada vacuum

Sixteen local businesses have their eyes on running tours at the S.S. Klondike and Dredge No. 4 this summer, according to the Yukon Tourism Industry Association.

Sixteen local businesses have their eyes on running tours at the S.S. Klondike and Dredge No. 4 this summer, according to the Yukon Tourism Industry Association.

Late last year the association asked private companies if they’d be interested in running tours at the two historic Parks Canada sites, after Parks Canada cut the tours from its now-shrunken budget.

“We had heard a lot of people say this was great opportunity for the private sector. But it’s one thing to say, it’s another to actually know,” said TIA executive director Blake Rogers.

Of the 16 responses TIA received, four were interested in running tours at either location, or both, said Rogers.

Now that it’s clear the private sector is interested, Rogers said it’s up to Parks Canada to make decisions around whether contracting private operators is possible.

Time is running out for businesses to begin planning for the coming summer tourist season, he warned.

“At this point the only thing we really can do is continue to underline the importance of this issue,” said Rogers. “We want to be ready for whatever the decision is that comes down.

“We’re past the 11th hour now. If people are going to pick up some of this product, the training and transition should have happened months ago. If it doesn’t happen very, very soon, it’s going to impact the 2013 season.”

But the 16 responses definitely has Parks’ attention.

“We appreciate that TIA has had an interest in helping us enhance visitor experience at the S.S. Klondike at the Dredge,” said Anne Morin, Parks Canada’s Yukon superintendent. “We’ve passed the information along (to Parks Canada’s national offices). We’re really looking forward to possible opportunities in the future,”

Yukon MP Ryan Leef has also been active in seeking an answer to the Parks cuts question. He’s been having ongoing discussions with the TIA and with Parks’ officials in Ottawa.

The next step is to discuss options at a stakeholders meeting set for late this week or early next week, he said

“Obviously, it’s a positive sign that Yukon businesses are interested in and see a viable option for them,” said Leef.

“It’s been kind of a packaged discussion as we’ve moved along … now it’s time to actually sit down and put some meat on the bones of it,” he said. “Depending on what comes out of the senior level branch at Parks Canada in terms of their proposed solutions to begin with, we will either re-engage with the solutions we’ve tabled around for a while (including possibly having Parks reinstate the tours itself) or we might just end up with good news in terms of these sites and services.”

It’s now up to interested businesses to make their cases and show they can make a private contract financially feasible, said Leef.

“It’s really going to boil down to whether a Yukon operator can make it a feasible and viable venture. What services can they provide, how much will it cost and what are they going to get in return for it … From what I’ve seen, I think it’s a viable enterprise. I think someone with some creativity, the right fee structure and the right marketing can do quite well,” he said.

The biggest challenge now will be reaching a deal with Parks Canada to commit that, whatever form the tours might take, they will in fact be open this summer. That commitment will be key in allowing private contractors to start booking summer tour groups, and Leef was hopeful a decision on that will be made in the next two weeks.

“We are down, the clock is ticking. It’s not an ideal situation in terms of the time we have left to make an announcement and engage a partner if that does end up being a viable option. I’m still optimistic that with the right amount of political will and right amount of local and national political support for this, there are some creative things we can probably engage in if we have the right strategy,” said Leef.

Contact Jesse Winter at jessew@yukon-news.com