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GN struggles to grow tourism without more investment

“Nunavut is a niche destination, particularly among international travellers.”

That's a key line from the Department of Economic Development and Tourism's Annual Tourism Report 2018-19.

In GN surveys, 99.8 per cent of tourists to Nunavut reported that their trip met or exceeded expectations. The government, however, is trying to increase the number of overall guests and is also gathering more data through annual visitor exit surveys, which only used to take place every several years.
Wikimedia Commons photo

The bulk of Nunavut's tourists come from within Canada, and a 67.5 per cent of those are Nunavummiut themselves, about half of them on business travel.

Growing the number of international travellers, who tend to spend more money, won't be easy due to logistical complexities, infrastructure and weather conditions, according to the report.

“Though this is by no means insurmountable with sufficient and targeted investment,” the report adds.

As CEO of Travel Nunavut, a not-for-profit association with close to 140 members, Kevin Kelly readily agrees that greater funding would beget greater results.

“All in all, there definitely needs to be more investment, whether it is within this organization or within the industry itself, or both, and infrastructure,” Kelly said. “We need more investment in airports. We need more investment in hotels. We need more in training. We need more folks to be getting involved in the travel industry, meaning we want more Inuit to become licensed and insured and operating a tourism business.”

There is, however, no indication that funding will rise over the next couple of years, stated Nancy Guyon, the GN's director of tourism and cultural industries.

“Investing additional funds in the sector very much depends on the growth of the industry over the next decade, priorities among federal and territorial stakeholder organizations, what each successive government mandate outlines as its priority and which municipalities and individuals continue to advocate for support,” said Guyon.

The GN devoted almost $1.3 million to 115 projects under the Community Tourism and Cultural Industries program in 2018-19. Another $325,000 was allocated through tourism-related initiatives under the Strategic Investments Program.

Travel Nunavut's $1 million in GN funding has been stagnant since 2016. Prior to that it was $3 million a year when it was known as Nunavut Tourism. Since then, the GN took over as the primary source of marketing for tourism through Destination Nunavut.

International visitors to Nunavut gravitate toward adventure activities such as fishing, wildlife viewing and bird watching as well as camping and hunting. However, there are so few of them – 7,800 in 2018 – that the latest GN tourism report actually encourages airlines, tourism operators and travel agents to underline that as a selling point.

The leisure tourism demographic generally comprises wealthy middle-aged individuals or retirees who seek “off-the-beaten-path experiences,” according to Guyon. The government, through its marketing, tries to attract these travellers by highlighting Nunavut's unique wildlife, tundra, waterways and strong cultural roots. In addition, the Department of Economic Development and Transportation aims to create full-time and supplementary income opportunities for Inuit through tourism, Guyon added.

Kelly said Travel Nunavut has been offering training to Nunavut's tourism businesses on how to optimize the marketing and volume of their products and services “so that our operators understand how to take full advantage of the customers who are coming to their door.”

Meanwhile, some entities in Nunavut are finding ways to cash in on tourism through fees. The Qikiqtani Inuit Association announced in October charges of $25 to $150 for commercial tourism operators to access Inuit-owned lands, depending on the activity.

In Pond Inlet, the amount cruise ships had to pay in service fees jumped this past summer for $75 per passenger from $50 per passenger, which results in hundreds of thousands of dollars in total revenue for the community.

“We fully support the fees... as long as they're done in a responsible manner,” Kelly said.

Fact file
Nunavut tourism by the numbers in 2018
-$271,383,000 spent by 51,200 travellers to Nunavut, including transportation expenses, between April and September
-90,700 visits by Nunavummiut travelling within the territory, spending an average of $2,800 per visit, including transportation costs
-7,800 visits by tourists from outside of Canada, spending an average of $6,700 per visit, including transportation costs
-3,404 cruise tourists came to Nunavut
-$388,351 spent by cruise operators on community tours, performances and logistics support for passengers
Source: Department of Economic Development