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Northern Frontier Visitors Association votes to dissolve
Acting president says city will struggle to replace group's years of experience

NNSL photograph

Northern Frontier Visitors Association board members David Stephens, left, Elise Chorostkowski, acting president Ian Henderson, John Doody and bookkeeper Maude Potvin led a meeting at the Nunasi Building on Monday. At the meeting, members voted to end the association. - Sidney Cohen/NNSL photo

Sidney Cohen
Northern News Services
Wednesday, October 4, 2017

After a rather emotional meeting Monday, the Northern Frontier Visitors Association voted to disband.

The non-profit's future has been uncertain since the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre closed due to structural problems in May.

The Government of the Northwest Territories has taken over the old building.

Seven members voted to keep the association going, despite not having a home base, and 11 voted to dissolve the nearly 35-year-old organization.

The association has about 100 members in total.

Kyle Thomas, former president of the Northern Frontier Visitors Association, was saddened by the results of Monday's vote, but entirely surprised.

"I look around the room and it's the same dedicated business owners and operators that have been at every meeting that I've been involved with for the last three years," he said in an interview yesterday. "So infrequently do we see the newer operators, the younger generation, come to those meetings. There just doesn't seem to be the willingness of the entire industry like their used to be."

The association will attempt to sell off its remaining inventory at the airport gift shop before it closes in about two weeks.

With about $40,000 to $50,000 in the bank, the organization can keep its website running for "quite a while," if that's what members want, said acting president Ian Henderson.

There was some debate over figures on the balance sheet provided to members before the vote. The board said amounts given were out of date and will be updated at the end of the year.

All members were encouraged to attend the next meeting, on a date to be determined, to have a say in what should be done with the remaining assets, including the website,

Without a visitor information centre, the association's purpose was hazy.

Still, said Henderson at the start of Monday's talks, it's "a shame to have to dissolve an organization just because we can't figure out what to do in the meantime."

For example, he said, it could morph into a lobby group and advocate on behalf of tourism operators in the territory.

"Not having a visitor information centre has had a huge impact on my business, because I've got to supply all that information now," said Henderson, who runs a bed and breakfast, "I've spent a lot of time responding to guests, filling in the gaps."

Longtime association member Yvonne Quick said when the organization formed in 1983, its mandate was to "foster, encourage and assist, in any way, the growth of tourism in and within the Northern Frontier region."

She recalled the association first started offering visitor services out of the basement of what is now Northern Images on Franklin Avenue. Sometime later, the territorial tourism department offered the group a free ground-floor space downtown, and then a whole building near Frame Lake.

Voice quivering, Cathie Bolstad, the executive director of Northwest Territories Tourism, thanked the association for being a "fantastic partner."

She assured the members that her organization has advocated for the local tourism industry in front of municipal and the territorial governments.

"Hospitality and visitors services are a big part of a destination's success," she said.

The city is currently operating a visitors centre at city hall as an interim measure, said Kerry Penney, director of policy, communications and economic development with the City of Yellowknife.

"There is a service, there's computers there for people to use, so although this is sad and a tough transition for people, visitors don't need to be lost, there is a visitors centre," she said.

Decisions about a more permanent visitors centre will be made over the next six months, she said.

Henderson said it will be "interesting" to see the city try to replace all the years of experience that the previous centre offered.

"You're starting with brand new people," he said, adding, "it will be really interesting to know the cost of that compared to what it would have cost to build a visitors centre ... We ran with a total budget of about $850,000."

Penny said the city's costs were much lower than that, to which Henderson responded that the city "isn't running a whole building."

"Anyways, we'll see how that all evolves," he said.

After the meeting, Quick told Yellowknifer that now tourism operators will have to advocate for themselves.

"Three years from now, they'll realize they made a mistake," she said.

"We have lost the ability to have a voice."

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