Cultural tourism continues to be a rising trend in the industry, and it’s a good time for Nunavummiut to get on board.
“The trends are going, and have been for some time, towards Indigenous tourism. People want to come up and experience the tourism industry through the eyes of Indigenous people, whether it is to visit someone’s place and experience tea and bannock, storytelling, learning about the Inuit culture and history,” said Travel Nunavut (formerly Nunavut Tourism) chief executive officer Kevin Kelly.
“We’ve certainly been working hard to make sure that we make it so that people want to get into the tourism industry. How we do that is through a series of member benefits.”
Hakongak Outfitting began in 2010 as a guided muskox hunt from Naikak Hakongak’s camp out at Byron Bay about 140 km from Cambridge Bay. But by 2016 the muskoxen were no longer in the area.
“At about that time, my wife and I decided we should try to do some ecotourism out of the camp at Byron Bay. So I’m trying to focus more on ecotours out of Byron Bay,” said Hakongak, who also offers guiding services for scientists.
The Hakongaks welcomed their first group of ecotourists in August 2017.
“It worked really well. We had a family of seven come up,” said Hakongak.
A Travel Nunavut member for six years, Hakongak is well-acquainted with its benefits.
“For tourists coming up, they get airfare discounts. If they have a tour, I can give them a code and they get a bit of a reduced rate,” he said.
“Another thing is my business is listed in the (Travel Nunavut) guide. Those are distributed all over the place. I get calls for bird watching, wildlife viewing and such. I get a lot of exposure through (Travel Nunavut).”
Most recently, Travel Nunavut has teamed up with insurance company HUB International to offer members rates on liability insurance.
Hakongak explains that means, in January when he renews his insurance, instead of paying $2,700 a year for $2 million in coverage, he’ll pay $1,500 for $5 million.
“For most people, a huge barrier to entering the tourism industry as an operator is the high cost of insurance,” said Kelly, adding HUB created the discount liability insurance for Travel Nunavut members.
“We also offer a series of marketing programs for our members. By far our biggest marketing program that we have is our new website,” said Kelly.
“Our new website is geared to our members and showcasing our members in as little clicks as possible. And, of course, we’re only going to be making more improvements to our site.”
Travel Nunavut currently has about 120 members, mostly Northern-based and Inuit operators.
He also makes the point that all a potential operator needs is a vehicle, insurance and licences.
“People will go out and just stand on the land and watch for the Northern lights. You start small and you work your way up,” said Kelly.
“We have all kinds of opportunities and it’s really just a matter of somebody taking advantage of them,” he said, mentioning Hamlet Days and local spring festivals. “There really is stuff for everybody.”
Hakongak plans on developing a website come the fall.
“We decided not to do anything this year, mainly because we want to go back to camp and reorganize it so things make a little bit more sense, make it a bit more user-friendly,” he said.
He knows the interest is out there.
Hakongak can offer visits to old longhouses, ancient fish and meat caches, old tent rings, Mount Pelly and its myth, and Thule sites. Cambridge Bay, as with most communities, has a lot of cultural history.
“And I know it’s going to sound crazy but some people just want to come up here, go out into the Dease Strait and say they’ve been on the Northwest Passage. Some people just want to come up and go out on a boat for a day, go out maybe 15 miles – then you can look north, south, east, west. They say it’s what they always wanted to do,” said Hakongak.
“It’s like a bucket list thing.”
Kelly says it’s unclear how many tourists come to Nunavut at this time, but in 2015 there were 16,750 non-resident visitors spending $37.9 million. Only eight per cent of that spending went to packages and guided trips, a percentage limited by a lack of availability.