Tourism operators in the Yukon are assessing their prospects for the winter to come. (Black Press file)

Tourism operators in the Yukon are assessing their prospects for the winter to come. (Black Press file)

Yukon tourism operators hope for local traffic with ‘Summer Freeze’ discounts

Some operators are hoping for local business to carry through the cold season

Summer is over and winter is well on its way. As the season changes, the Yukon’s tourism businesses are taking stock of prospects for the coming season and assistance provided by the government in making up shortfalls caused by less out-of-territory visitors.

In late September, the Yukon government announced the continuation of the Great Yukon Summer campaign, calling the extension to run through March of 2022 “The Great Yukon Summer Freeze.”

The core of the program is a 25 per cent rebate on certain tourism packages for Yukon residents in an effort to assist tourism businesses by making up some of the shortfall left by fewer visitors coming in from outside the territory.

Some tour operators eagerly embraced the concept of the rebates when it was announced in June. Four months on, some of the business owners are reporting good results and looking forward to winter. Others say marked improvement will only happen with the return of more Outside visitors.

Manuela Larsen, the operator of Muktuk Adventures, said their rebate-eligible canoe tours were well received, but the high water over the summer led to some difficulties getting people out on the water. Despite this, she noted a small increase in the number of locals taking guided trips.

Larsen said she would be putting together packages for the dog sled tours that make up most of the business over the winter. She said most years the dog sled kennels see some local business, but usually only from Yukoners who have family visiting around Christmas. She said she hopes this winter the packages advertised on the Great Yukon Summer website will help attract more local business.

James Allen, the owner of Shakat Tun Adventures said anything that helps the tourism industry is good, but in his case at least there is no substitute for a return of Outside visitors.

Allen, a former chief of the Champagne and Aishikik First Nations, operates accommodations overlooking Christmas Bay on Kluane Lake. At the camp, Allen and his staff offer guests exposure to traditional First Nations culture and activities. He said that before the pandemic hit, Shakat Tun was beginning to see visitors from as far away as Mexico, the Netherlands and Eastern Canada.

Since the pandemic, he said he has received no inquiries from abroad and few from elsewhere in Canada.

With the foreign business dried up, Allen said there are still bills to be paid, which have got in the way of his plans for expanding the business. He said that shortly before the pandemic hit, he had an electricity generator installed at the camp and would like to add showers and plumbing when he can get ahead financially.

Allen said he was advertising winter activities like snowshoeing and ice fishing at the camp, but that is also on hold until the COVID-19 situation improves and more visitors return. Although there were few visitors from outside the Yukon, Allen said First Nations groups rented out the camp for retreats leading to a rebound in business for August and September.

With the announcement of the extended Great Yukon Summer Freeze in late September, Yukon Minister of Tourism and Culture Ranj Pillai explained how the tourism sector was lagging behind the Yukon’s otherwise brisk economic recovery. He said the first five months of 2021 have shown continued growth in new construction and the territory’s unemployment rate is the second-lowest in the country. He said the visitation report for the second quarter of 2021— April, May and June — shows overnight visitation for international visitors is beginning to improve but remains down 87 per cent when compared to the five-year average before the pandemic.

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