Parks Canada will allow private contractors to take over tours this summer at the S.S. Klondike and Dredge No. 4.
Yukon MP Ryan Leef made the announcement today in Whitehorse. It comes at the 11th hour for the two popular historic sites, with tourist season mere months away.
Parks will begin contacting 18 local businesses that expressed interest in running the tours, as well as seeking other proposals. The deadline for applications for a licence to run the tours is April 2. Parks plans to have the applications reviewed by April 15; the licences will be valid starting June 1.
“We’ve been working on this for just over a year and at every step of the way (federal environment minister) Peter Kent was available and responsive to us. Support from the territorial government helped us keep this issue alive in the federal mind and is what ultimately led to the solution,” Leef said.
Leef also credited the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon for its efforts earlier in the winter to contact businesses that might be interested in operating tours. This will likely help speed up the process, he said.
“TIA was an active and involved partner right from the get go, and the minister of tourism, Mike Nixon, was fantastic as well. I don’t think a week went by that he wasn’t communicating directly with us about what solutions we were looking for,” Leef said.
“Ultimately, this is a Yukon solution to a Yukon challenge. Yukoners will finally get to decide how things are run,” he said.
He acknowledged that timelines are now tight, with just over a month for a successful applicant to prepare to run the tours.
“The length of time and challenge has been directly related to the fact that this is national in scope and scale. I think we all would have liked that flick-of-the-switch response and immediate return in action when this occurred, but because it was national in scope and scale, that took some time,” Leef said.
While Parks won’t be running the tours itself anymore, Leef said it will work closely with the private operators to ensure that all the safety and visitor experience requirements are met. That also leaves private operators flexibility in how they meet those requirements, he said.
“They could go all out with costumes and everything, or they could just provide that safety from a simple guided tour,” Leef said.
As well as establishing guided tours for the summer, Leef also said that Parks has committed to maintaining all the historical artifacts from the Dredge No. 4 in the Yukon.
“None of those artifacts will be leaving the Yukon. I know that was a big concern for some people, especially folks in Dawson who donated artifacts from their personal collections. They would not have been happy if their family items ended up being stored somewhere in Ottawa,” Leef said.
In April last year, Parks Canada announced it was cutting guided tours from the S.S. Klondike and Dredge No. 4 as part of the federal government’s 2012 budget cutbacks.
Local businesses worried that losing the popular tours would cause a drop in tourism revenue, especially for tour companies wanting to include the historic sites in their tour packages.
The tours had been run by Parks Canada staff for the last couple of years, but were managed by a private contractor up until 2005.
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