An Air North airplane is guided in to its gate at the Whitehorse airport. According to Blake Rogers, executive director of the territory’s tourism association, tourism in the Yukon could see roughly $60 million down the drain because of the coronavirus. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)

Economic losses caused by coronavirus could ‘decimate’ local businesses, TIA executive director says

$60 million in tourism losses is being projected

Tourism in the Yukon could see roughly $60 million down the drain because of COVID-19, according to the executive director of the territory’s tourism association.

“Taking a 20 per cent cut is something that will — it could decimate people,” said Blake Rogers of the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon (TIA). “We don’t want people to panic, but we do want people to know that this is a concern and a priority for us, just to make sure we are prepared for whatever storm is blowing through.”

Overall, there’s projected to be between 20 and 30 per cent losses to revenue, he said, and small businesses are to bear the brunt.

This figure represents the cancellation of the Arctic Winter Games, cruises and fewer flights into the Yukon.

The tourism sector could lose roughly $2 million resulting from AWG being scrapped, he said. This number accounts for things like transportation, accommodation, food and drink and tours.

“We’re coming towards the winter season, too, so you’re kind of looking at wiping out some of the winter season for winter operators, as well,” Rogers said.

“Things may change in the next few weeks and there may be more confidence in the travel market overall. For right now, we want to make sure we are prepared for what’s to come.”

The association is calling on the Yukon government for at least $2.5 million in economic stimulus, among other things, and is planning to continue polling the business community in coming months.

“This has become our new reality,” Rogers said. “We are working really closely with the business community because everybody wants to know what’s happening.”

The TIA’s projection, along with other questions about the Yukon government’s response to COVID-19, drew heated exchanges at the legislative assembly on March 12.

Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers slammed the Liberals for voting against a motion his party brought earlier in the week to form an all-party committee to study the economic impacts of COVID-19 and revise the territory’s economic outlook before the end of the spring sitting.

He accused Premier Sandy Silver of seeming “a bit out of touch with reality” and asked if, in light of the TIA’s projection, Silver would agree to revise the outlook.

Silver, in turn, swiped at the Yukon Party’s economic track record while essentially saying a revised outlook wasn’t needed.

“Mr. Speaker, I am not going to take fiscal advice from the member opposite,” Silver said, emphasizing the territory’s “amazing” economy and budget, with surpluses forecast for the next two years.

“…The members opposite want us to run around and say that the sky has fallen,” he continued. “The good news, Mr. Speaker, is that it hasn’t.”

Speaking to media afterwards, interim Yukon Party leader Stacey Hassard said he was “frustrated” because “it doesn’t appear that this premier and this government is concerned in the least” about the TIA’s projection.

He also accused Silver of not following his own calls for everyone to put politics aside and work together, describing the Yukon Party’s voted-down motion as a “gift” that the government wasn’t “willing to latch on to,” with Silver instead “lashing out” at the official Opposition.

“It’s really bizarre, you know, when you offer to help someone and instead of accepting that help they shit all over you instead,” Hassard said. “It’s kind of strange.”

Separately, Silver told media that the TIA’s projection was “absolutely” a concern but maintained that the government has “the ability to work on the fly” and didn’t “have to do an economic forecast to prepare for these things.”

“Now, I’m not going to speculate, and I know that’s exactly what you want me to do, on what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “But what we are doing is preparing for all of these variables moving forward, and from the support we’re seeing from the federal government, from the fact that we are seeing money in a surplus, we are ready and we are prepared.”

Contact Julien Gignac and Jackie Hong at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com and jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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