EDITORIAL: Missed opportunity in TCMF guidelines

Way back on March 27, the same day a state of emergency was declared in the Yukon due to COVID-19, the Yukon government announced it was more than doubling the money available through the Tourism Cooperative Marketing Fund through a one-time injection of $1 million.

That brought the total funding available to eligible businesses for 2020-2021 up to a cool $1.7 million total.

At the same time, the government broadened parameters on the program for both applicants and activities so that, in the government’s words, “more Yukon tourism experience and service providers can promote themselves locally, within Canada and internationally when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and travel resumes.”

Three weeks after that rose-coloured release, our borders were closed to all non-essential travel.

Even today, we’re only open for business with our “bubble” which basically amounts to British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. Travel from Nunavut without self-isolating is available, provided you charter a flight and stay out of Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, better known as places you can actually access from Nunavut.

The rest of the country is out of luck, unless you can budget two weeks of self-isolation time to the start of your vacation.

When the interim guidelines were published in April to reflect these changes in attitudes, there were a couple of noteworthy things.

The guidelines included a list of pre-approved advertisers, including a long list of local options as well as similar lists for pre-approved “Canada and Alaska-based” and “international” options.

Now Northwestel internet is far from the most reliable in the world, but last I checked the internet still reaches Outside on a good day. Why then, the need to distinguish at all between categories?

One needs only check the comments on any local publication’s latest and greatest to find readers from all over the world. Readers who not only are Outside the territory, but are also already showing an interest in the Yukon.

But of course, the Department of Tourism and Culture would take exception to that analysis.

“It is important not to lose sight of the fact that one of the primary objectives and founding principles of the funding is (and remains) enabling Yukon tourism businesses to advertise in publications based in other jurisdictions to attract visitors to the territory,” a spokesperson for the department said in an email to the News. “It was to help address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Yukon’s tourism sector and work within travel restrictions that the scope was expanded to better enable our clients to promote their experiences and services to Yukon residents in addition to Canadian and international visitors.”

So the fact the money more than doubled when the scope was expanded, that was purely coincidence. The extra money wasn’t for local advertising, it was cash for advertising Outside to keep visitor numbers high. All while the borders are, four months later, still largely closed to tourists.

All that aside, the bigger concern for local advertising options was the inclusion of six pages in the appendices of the guidelines giving step-by-step instructions on how to retrieve the appropriate receipts from Facebook and Google.

In a 40-page document, six pages were dedicated to providing customer support on behalf of American tech giants.

On the plus side, the department worked with a local design firm to produce the pages so at least someone local was supported.

Tourism is for tourism businesses, the department said, and advertising options just aren’t their concern.

“In updating that document we aimed to remove barriers to get funding into the hands of as many businesses as possible and for the widest range of marketing opportunities,” the department said. “The section of the appendix with Google and Facebook walkthroughs was developed to help applicants understand how to access required documentation for reporting that they had identified as unfamiliar and confusing.”

I, like many Yukoners, was stunned when I learned earlier this year that the government’s find-a-doctor service was a random lottery. No matter when you sign up, you have the same odds as anyone else. Early adopters who haven’t been matched yet are forced to wait patiently as their odds of getting a doctor decrease day by day as more and more sign up.

Where’s that energy now?

The local advantage is customer support. The local advantage is being able to call the office of the Whitehorse Star or the Yukon News or the Klondike Sun when you have issues advertising.

The decision to include instructions for dealing with American companies erases that advantage.

Tourism even acknowledges as much.

“To your credit, clients are able to easily contact local media outlets with any questions and receive a prompt and personal response. Moreover, because of these outlets’ community legacy, they feel comfortable doing so,” a spokesperson said in an email.

Throughout COVID-19, the government has been quick to act — albeit often without details in place — to help nearly every industry.

This could have been an easy and simple way to both increase local tourism and support local media outlets, but the narrow lens through which different departments operate killed that idea on the vine.