Tourists watch as the aurora lights up the sky over Whitehorse in 2016. The Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon is calling on the government to ease border restrictions to help tour operators cope with devastating COVID-19 business losses. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Tourism operators say winter season outlook is bleak without border openings

The Tourism Association is urging the government that borders should be reopened

The Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon is calling on the government to ease border restrictions to help tour operators cope with devastating COVID-19 business losses.

On Aug. 24 the group sent a letter to Premier Sandy Silver, Tourism Minister Jeanie Dendys and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley requesting an expansion of the existing travel bubble.

As guides and owners gear up for an unpredictable winter season the association is urging the government that low case levels over the summer indicate tourism should be reopened.

“The B.C. bubble gave us a chance to demonstrate that we could host people coming in with all of the measures that are being taken,” said Association Chair Neil Hartling. “There was one reported case, which was contained quickly. It was textbook management and demonstrated that the territory is able to handle incidents of COVID.”

Hartling said the relatively small number of domestic winter tourists would be manageable, while not having them could be devastating for many operators. He said business owners need some idea of the future as they face decisions on whether to keep facilities open, hire staff and whether or not to spend on marketing.

At a press conference on Sept. 10 Hanley acknowledged “it is definitely a challenge to reconcile” the safety measures of COVID-19 and the impact on the tourism market.

“This is just a bad year for tourism. And I think it’s going to continue into winter to be a bad year for tourism,” he said. “I think in general, we have to take a longer-term approach.”

“It is a difficult thing to establish certainty when we’re really looking at phenomena that change from week to week. So I hear the concerns and we’ll do what we can to at least let people know what we’re thinking. But establishing a firm deadline at this point is not possible. It’s not realistic,” he said.

The Yukon opened its border with British Columbia and the other territories in June, allowing people from the province to visit without the strict two-week quarantine mandated for other places of origin.

Since that decision, case numbers in Quebec, Alberta and Ontario have continued to rise, while British Columbia recently began rolling back some Phase 3 opening decisions after seeing cases spike. The Yukon has only seen one positive case likely transmitted from travellers.

Community Services Minister John Streicker said Dendys is in talks with federal, territorial and provincial counterparts to talk about tourism solutions.

Torsten Eder, who runs Northern Tales Travel Services, said the government’s response has been frustrating.

He said he realizes there is no solution to losing international revenue but said in a normal year his company makes 30 per cent of revenue from domestic tourists. Eder said he doesn’t understand why the provinces have open borders but Yukon remains strictly controlled.

“What happens if it takes a year or two for herd immunity to happen even with a vaccine, are they going to stay closed for the next two or three years? I think there’s no long term plan,” he said.

Tourism and mining are the territories two largest private-sector industries. In 2014, tourism activities in Yukon accounted for 5.3 per cent of its business sector GDP and 18.4 per cent of its business sector jobs, according to the Bureau of Statistics.

While gold prices have risen during the pandemic summer and the Yukon government has made no mass layoffs, tourism has been the industry hit hardest by the pandemic. In a report released in June, the Bureau of Statistics projected a loss of up to 96 per cent this year.

Eder said he’d like to see more empathy from Yukon residents who have been able to keep their steady paychecks despite the pandemic.

“I wish they would be able to put themselves into our shoes and imagine that after six months now having no income or just government support, how would they then evaluate the situation and decide?” he said.

Many winter tourism operators that manage large dog teams are feeling extra pressure since fixed costs like food and vet bills don’t disappear despite the lack of tourists.

“I can’t just tell the dogs you know, I’m sorry, but we have no guests so we’re all going on a diet now,” said Manuela Larsen, operator of Muktuk Adventures.

The company has 130 dogs. Larsen said government relief programs from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and Yukon government are the only thing covering food costs, vet bills and electricity.

“It just covers the dog costs, but it doesn’t cover any of the other fixed costs and so we are definitely really hoping for the winter season to be somewhat successful. Border openings within Canada certainly would be helpful for tourism, but it’s tough on both sides.

“In our business, there’s always uncertainty. If we have a bad winter with not a whole lot of snow it’s easy for us to adjust there because if we don’t have snow, we just go on wheels. There’s something we can do. But right now we just have nobody coming,” she said.

Contact Haley Ritchie at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read