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Tourism industry hits hard times, for now

The Yukon’s slowing tourism industry shouldn’t panic over the economic downturn, says Rod Taylor.

The Yukon’s slowing tourism industry shouldn’t panic over the economic downturn, says Rod Taylor.

There is a bright future on the horizon for lodge owners, outfitters and travel companies.

But that future is at least two years away.

“We live and die by the American market,” said the chair of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon.

Seventy-three per cent of tourists visiting the Yukon are from the US, he said.

The housing crisis, the credit crunch and falling stock markets have hit American pocketbooks hard, rendering Yukon dogsledding vacations a luxury — more so than in the past.

The number of American tourists in the Yukon dropped nine per cent in 2008.

That’s compared to a 7.3 per cent drop in American tourists in Canada overall, and a 3.3 per cent drop nationally in overseas visitors.

“In the Yukon, we’re hit a little harder,” said Taylor, who also owns Uncommon Journeys.

Taylor’s outdoor adventure company specializes in winter dogsledding excursions.

There were fewer bookings at the outset of the season than usual, but clients are probably waiting until the last minute to plan a trip north because of the economic instability.

“This winter, we have been about 15 per cent behind with one caveat — we are getting closer to our normal numbers,” he said.

“In the last week, we’ve had a flurry of bookings,” he said.

American travel companies are lowering their prices, and travel within the US is up 9.9 per cent.

But the Yukon should stick to the quality of its product and not cheapen the price for short-term gain.

“The majority of our product is mid-market level or lower,” he said.

“The one thing that we do know is that if you’re looking for the highest trajectory for growth, the higher-end the product, the better it’s doing.

“The one thing we cannot do is lower the quality of the product in an attempt to lower the price.”

Besides, the economic turmoil is a good thing for the Yukon in the long run, he said.

Fuel prices are dropping, the Canadian dollar is sliding and the 2010 Vancouver Olympics will give the Yukon some much-needed publicity.

“That afterglow from (the Vancouver Olympics) — there is going to be a lasting legacy there for us,” said Taylor.

Not to mention the airport expansion coming back on track after a dispute with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation over the construction contract.

“The Alaska Highway is an aging product,” he said.

Air travel to the Yukon is on the way up.

“The deplaning (numbers) are on a stable growth trajectory for the next three years,” said Taylor.

Another international flight deal like the one with Condor Airlines would be a huge boost.

“And if we don’t have an airport, that ain’t going to happen,” said Taylor.

There will also be benefits from a recently signed memorandum of understanding between the tourism and mining industry, he said.

During a well-publicized showdown between mining exploration company Cash Minerals and conservationists in the Wind River area last year, Taylor sat down with some mining companies to find common ground.

“Although the two of us may have disagreed on the micro issues, we both agreed that there was a need to coexist on the development versus protection issues,” he said.

“It’s about to become the most important issue in the North.”

The memorandum was signed during the Opportunities North conference in October.

“The memorandum document was signed by leaders of both industries and will eventually lead to a best-practices document,” said Taylor.

Both industries realized how uneducated they were about the needs of the other, he said.

“We’re going to work together to try and create an environment where these conflicts will be dealt with in a proactive way as much as possible instead of letting them fester,” he said.

A big part of the deal is figuring out where conflagrations are likely to occur.

“One of those (initiatives) is a mapping exercise of the current and probable mining and tourism developments,” he said.

It makes it easier to find overlaps between tourism and mining interests in the Yukon, he said.

If a tourism company wants to build a lodge, they can consult the map to see if the area has been staked by miners.

It offers an opportunity for one company to get in contact with the other in order to get the details on what kind of development is likely to take place.

In case there truly is a conflict, both industries will try and set up peer groups to discuss the issue rather than have two contractors go head to head, said Taylor.

Contact James Munson at