Jeanie Dendys, minister of Tourism and Culture, at legislature in Whitehorse on Nov. 27, 2017. Dendys said recently, plans to improve tourism in the territory are driven by Yukoners. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Committee suggests turning the Yukon tourism department into a Crown corporation

Yukoners have until Oct. 3 to comment on draft plans

A proposed plan, assembled by a Yukon tourism committee, suggests turning the Department of Tourism into a Crown corporation.

The idea, said Rich Thompson, co-chair of the Yukon Tourism Development Strategy Steering Committee, is to consolidate industry and government — a unified approach to bolster the scale and scope of tourism in the territory.

This could mean, he said, more money for both marketing and the destinations themselves.

“I think there’s going to be a real opportunity to consolidate and create efficiencies and have less administration and more activity aimed at building the destination,” Thompson said, noting that, under a corporate model, objectives will be set.

“You’ve got a central hierarchy that will deliver on those goals,” he said.

The steering committee, an amalgamation of partners, from First Nations to the Yukon government, conducted the “largest ever public engagement” on ways to improve and grow tourism sustainably over the next decade.

More than 12,000 comments were collected about the issue.

“It was a tremendous amount of work,” said Jeanie Dendys, minister of tourism and culture. “We took the time to listen to Yukoners.”

The suggestion of a Crown corporation “is something our government will have to consider as we bring it into our internal process,” she said.

Dendys said the proposed plans don’t stop at her department.

“This is a collective of all partners and that includes each and every one of us,” she said.

Potentially transforming the tourism department into a Crown corporation is not a poor reflection of the government, Thompson clarified, nor does he think it’s being weighed down by “over politicization”: it has more to do with suggestions raised during the committee’s work.

“It’s all been handled very well (the tourism file), independent of which government is in, but the corporate structure would really allow for, in my view, a very efficient delivery of those services. That’s really the key,” he said.

“We have a number of NGOs and a fragmentation of spending. This leads to a lot of administration inefficiency,” he added.

Thompson said the Yukon has always been a place where partnerships have run strong, where government and industry have worked together.

A Crown corporation could take this tenet further, he said.

The steering committee seeks to increase tourism revenues hand over fist to $525 million — double what the government draws in now, according to the plan.

To help this along would mean transforming the Yukon into a year-round tourist haven, which would require giving existing infrastructure a boost and assessing new opportunities.

Aurora viewing, Thompson said, is one example of an area where there’s room for improvement, in terms of ramping up capacity.

Sports, meetings and conventions can be better marketed — assets with “fabulous” potential, he said.

Roads, along with signage and wilderness trails, are other aspects that would be looked at.

All of these components will work in tandem “to increase the value of shoulder and off-season tourism,” Thompson said.

The problem right now, he said, is that it’s difficult to build up businesses that only operate on a seasonal basis.

“The best way to sell a destination is to have people come here and have a great experience and then go back and tell their friends.”

This point is connected to another suggestion in the proposed plan to ensure that 80 per cent of Yukoners support a more robust tourism industry, because if they do, visitors will more likely have a better time, Thompson said.

“That will, in itself, affect the visitor experience.”

Striking a balance between sustainability efforts and tourism is also noted.

Growing the tourism industry isn’t synonymous with increasing the number of visitors to the territory, however, Thompson said.

“We’re talking about revenue growth, not just visitor growth. You can also build your revenues by having people spend more, stay longer. We are focused on sustainable tourism and a tourism that is respectful of the place we’re marketing,” he said.

This would be done by developing tourism as a “vibrant” part of the economy in places in which people want to be part of that transformation, Thompson said.

In terms of specific ideas on the sustainable tourism front, he said they will be eventually fleshed out with communities affected by them.

“This document was developed on a collaborative basis and the action plans need to be developed in the same fashion,” Thompson said.

The public can make comments on the draft report until Oct. 3. After this date, the steering committee will conduct a review, then submit a strategy to the government for final approval, according to its website.

Contact Julien Gignac at

julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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