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Yukon tourists buying less

It's a tourism double whammy. Not only are fewer people visiting the Yukon, the ones we're getting are stingier than normal. "We've noticed a lot more people are asking, 'How much does this cost?' before they engage in any purchases,"

It’s a tourism double whammy.

Not only are fewer people visiting the Yukon, the ones we’re getting are stingier than normal.

“We’ve noticed a lot more people are asking, ‘How much does this cost?’ before they engage in any purchases,” said Rick Karp, president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

The global recession has forced tourism marketers, such as Holland America, to drastically reduce the cost of their Yukon trips.

All the deep discounting means that “less avid” spenders are coming to the territory, said Karp.

Visitors are still paying for hotels and admission fees—but they’re tightening their belts on “discretionary spending.”

“People are visiting the museum, but they’re not shopping in the way they have been previously, ” said Patricia Cunning, executive director of the MacBride Museum.

Robert Service books continue to fly off the shelves—but nobody’s touching the carved antlers.

“They’re buying $5 souvenirs, but they’re not buying $200 items of jewelry,” said Cunning.

“We still have quite a few people, but the amounts of the purchases are a little bit smaller,” said Eva Schmid with Maximillian’s Gold Rush Emporium, based in Dawson.

Main Street’s North End Gallery has seen a drop in sales of “big-ticket items” ($800 or more), said Art Webster, the gallery’s owner.

Still, Webster’s average sales remain “identical” to last year’s.

“Instead of big-ticket purchases, people are just buying more items,” said Webster.

In late 2008, Holland America launched a round of “unprecedented low fares” in a bid to fill their increasingly vacant cruise ships.

Still, “cruise tours are still down 20 to 30 per cent over last year’s numbers,” said Heather McIntyre, manager of Holland America’s Westmark Whitehorse hotel.

McIntyre’s hotel has taken its own hit in discretionary spending.

The Westmark gift shop has seen sales drop by as much as 70 per cent, she said.

“The reality is that American consumers appear to be cutting back,” according to the Yukon Department of Tourism’s year-end report for 2008.

In the last quarter of 2008, US consumer spending dropped by 3.1 per cent—the first decline in 17 years.

Cruise Canada Inc., which rents most of its RVs to Europeans, hasn’t noticed a dip in demand, said Leo Boon, manager of Whitehorse’s Cruise Canada RV rentals.

However, the US-based franchise has dropped its rental rates.

RV owners are likely hitting the roads less, said Boon.

“Most of those people are retirees; they live off dividends from their portfolios, and those portfolios have crashed,” he said.

Parking spaces have indeed been getting harder to find at Wal-Mart, thanks to RVers, but it shouldn’t indicate a crashing economy, said Boon.

“RVers are just the same kind of mix of people that you have for regular tourists; you have backpackers, you have people that stay in hotels, you have people that stay in luxury resorts,” said Boon.

Wal-Mart campers are merely “backpackers of the RV industry.”

A relatively strong Canadian dollar may also be to blame for reduced tourist spending.

Over the past month, the exchange rate has hovered at $1.15 CDN for every US dollar.

In past years, a weak Canadian dollar has been a key method of luring Alaskans and lower-48ers over the border.

Local tourism is also spurred, since it’s more expensive for Canadian to travel outside the country.

Cheapskates or not, fewer tourists come to the Yukon with each passing year.

“Our core tourism numbers have been dropping little by little over the last decade,” said Cunning.

Border crossings—one of the government’s only tourism yardsticks—continue to tumble.

In 2008, Yukon border crossings by US citizens dropped by 13 per cent.

In the first part of 2009, they’ve dropped another 13 per cent.

Canada-wide, tourism numbers have been dropping for nine straight months, the first time since “2001, when the tourism sector, already in a downturn, was hit by the events of September 11 and their aftermath,” reported Statistics Canada.

Contact Tristin Hopper at