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Touting territorial tourism

Mike Nixon, the Yukon's minister of culture and tourism, is in Germany this week to promote the territory as a tourist destination. It's not a hard sell. Germany is by far the biggest overseas market for the Yukon.

Mike Nixon, the Yukon’s minister of culture and tourism, is in Germany this week to promote the territory as a tourist destination.

It’s not a hard sell. Germany is by far the biggest overseas market for the Yukon, contributing about $16 million to $17 million to the territorial economy annually.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for growth, said Nixon.

“I really do believe that Yukon’s becoming a lot more popular, especially in the last 10 years,” he said, on the phone from Germany. “We’ve got such an incredible product in Yukon.”

Today, Nixon is visiting the Hannover Zoo, where Yukon artist Keith Wolf Smarch will be presenting a sculpture for the zoo’s Yukon exhibit.

This is the first time that Nixon has been to Germany since he took over the tourism portfolio last fall, but it’s not the first time that a Yukon delegation has visited.

“If a minister comes to Germany, it means a lot to them,” he said. “Hopefully that will give us some more profile and we can kind of grasp a little more of that potential.”

Nixon had meetings all week with tour operators, wholesalers, retail agents and air carriers to talk about ways to realize more of that potential.

It’s not a problem getting German tourists in the summer months.

“The Germans will rent an RV and just go off into the wilderness and they feel very comfortable with that,” said Nixon.

The winter is another story.

This week Nixon met with representatives for the Fulda tire company - which hosts Fulda Challenge, an annual extreme winter endurance race in the territory - to talk about ways to use that event to promote the Yukon as a winter destination. Already the Fulda Challenge generates $4 million in media coverage for the Yukon.

But while it may be hard to get Germans to brave the cold, it’s not as much of a problem with Japanese tourists.

Japan is still a small part of the overseas market, but it is the fastest-growing one, said Nixon. Unlike the Germans, Japanese tourists seem to prefer a more structured tour package.

Having the minister travel abroad to promote the Yukon internationally is a great thing, said Blake Rogers, the executive director of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon.

“I think it’s valuable to strengthen connections in Europe for that market,” he said. “Last year alone, we’ve had a number of international events that have taken place. With the Arctic Winter Games, with the Women’s World Fastpitch Championship this summer, Yukon’s getting worldwide recognition, and I think it’s important to foster that.”

But while official visits are valuable, there’s even more value to be had in the tourism study that Yukon and federal governments are doing, he said.

The year-long $585,000 study will give the industry a better idea of where it should focus its efforts, said Rogers.

It’s the first time since 2004 that such a comprehensive survey has been done.

“A lot’s changed in eight years,” said Rogers.

The survey, to be conducted both in person and through electronic kiosks at the airport, will ask visitors where they came from, how they got around and what they did while visiting the territory.

“With all that data we can have a better sense of what to expect in years to come, but also how to prepare for the travellers that are coming, to give us the biggest bang for the buck,” said Rogers. “It’s just great to have accurate information.

“When you have better ways of assessing the performance of the industry, you have a better way to set goals and to measure the successes of where things are.”

The City of Whitehorse is also shaking up its own tourism department.

The recently completed organizational review of the city’s administration has recommended splitting up the positions of co-ordinator of tourism and economic development, and moving those responsibilities into other departments.

Meetings with the city’s tourism staff will be held over the next couple of months, so it’s still too soon to say how the changes will play out, said Stan Westby, the Whitehorse city manager.

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