Tourism outlook grim

The global economic downturn has hit the United States especially hard, resulting in fewer Americans travelling abroad. A strong Canadian dollar has created another reason for Americans to vacation elsewhere.

The number of tourists who visited the Yukon slumped for the second consecutive year in 2009, and the outlook is equally glum for this coming season.

The global economic downturn has hit the United States especially hard, resulting in fewer Americans travelling abroad. A strong Canadian dollar has created another reason for Americans to vacation elsewhere.

These findings, released last week by Yukon’s tourism bureau, are all bad news for Yukoners who work in restaurants, hotels and other service sectors that depend on large numbers of tourists rolling through the territory in Holland America tour buses during the summer months.

And there’s more pain to come. Alaska is projecting a 15 per cent drop in cruise visitors this year, from 1 million visitors in 2009, because several cruise ships have moved out of the state’s market.

“Reduced cruise ship capacity into Alaskan ports of call, especially Skagway, are indeed expected to contribute to a decline in the number of same-day shore excursion visitors to Yukon,” says the tourism bureau’s year-end report for 2009.

Yukon saw 16,986 fewer visitors in 2009. This is largely due to reduced tour bus traffic: the number of visitors carried aboard motor coaches declined by 18,709, according to the tourism bureau. While the number of visitors who arrived by private vehicle or airplane grew, it wasn’t enough to offset the big drop in bus-driven tourists.

The total number of American visitors dropped by 7.6 per cent, to 15,733 visitors. The territory did see an increase in Canadian visitors, which went up by 12.6 per cent, or 33,176 visitors. But again, growth in smaller markets couldn’t make up for the shortfall in American visitors.

In recent years, the tourism bureau has focused on attracting domestic tourists from elsewhere in Canada. It hopes if these visitors continue to grow in number, they could help balance-out the decline in American visits.

The Yukon government has always been happy to claim credit for tourism numbers as they continued to swell. Now it has hit a bumpy patch, however, Tourism Minister Elaine Taylor insists it’s beyond her control.

On April 27, the Liberals’ Don Inverarity asked Taylor to explain 2009’s “dismal results.”

She replied, “If the member opposite is asking me if I individually had responsibility over the global economic recession that this worldwide globe has been experiencing over the past couple of years, the answer is no.”

Taylor went on to note that the tourism budget grew by more than $500,000 for 2010. She neglected to mention how much of this money merely reinstates funds that had been cut the previous year.

The territory spends about $5 million annually on promoting tourism.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com.