BRTA runs again
Tourism group to meet in Hay River Saturday

Doug Ashbury
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 18/99) - The organization with the logo of a blue canoeist backed by a yellow sun is being reactivated, it was announced last week.

The Big River Tourism Association was founded in the mid-1970s and managed tourism-related matters throughout the Big River Tourism zone. The group handled marketing, signs, and tourism information.

The Big River zone includes Lutsel K'e, Fort Fitzgerald, Fort Smith, Fort Providence, Fort Resolution and Enterprise.

In 1995, the association folded due to lack of funding. NWT Arctic Tourism, an NWT-wide tourism organization, was set up to handle the Western Arctic's tourism sector.

The BRTA operated with a budget of about $150,000. With the BRTA folding, the organization's executive director was out of work and left the NWT.

BRTA interim president, Clayton Burke, said it became apparent that a regional tourism organization was still needed.

"We'd like to get together and start marketing ourselves. We need marketing. Things have gone backwards (since BRTA folded)," he said Thursday.

And lumping tourism, which used to be part of Economic Development and Tourism, in with Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development, did not help, he said. This meant tourism was grouped with mining which meant tourism was "backburnered," he said.

A year ago, tourism representatives including tour operators, visitor information centre managers, the Dene Cultural Institute, RWED, Parks Canada, and chamber of commerce people met in Hay River to discuss tourism.

It was decided that the Big River Tourism Association should be revived and an organizing committee was struck. The group met in May.

A new board of directors will be elected Saturday. All tourism industry representatives are invited.

The association is hoping to work as a group to develop the area's tourism potential.

Other goals include promoting cultural tourism and networking. The association also hopes to help revive other tourism zones and promote joint ventures among the communities and to share resources and information.

The group also plans ties to NWT Arctic Tourism.

And, said Burke, there is a big effort to make sure aboriginal participation will be strong in the new BRTA. Burke, who has been operating a tour business for several years, said his business is down over the last two years.

"I attribute it directly to the lack of a BRTA. Because we had been marketing our region."

Among the big draws to the region is Wood Buffalo National Park.

Mike Keizer, the park's client and heritage services manager, said visitor numbers are, so far, down this year compared to last. But he said much of the drop was due to a slow start tied to poor weather.

From April to September, 1,187 people visited the park's centre in Fort Smith. Last year, over the same period, 1,426 visitors stopped in at the centre. For all of 1998, the centre saw 1,748 visitors.

As for use of the campgrounds, numbers are up, but Keizer said there was an increase in the number of Fort Smith residents going camping.

As for the restart of the BRTA, Keizer said he believes the South Slave needs to work together to boost tourism. "Wood Buffalo is a destination, but there are opportunities all along the way," he said. To get the numbers up, communities will have to get together, he added. Keizer said he is pleased to see renewed interest in getting the BRTA back operating.

The Big River Tourism Association (BRTA) will hold an annual general meeting Saturday, Oct. 23 at 2 p.m. at the Dene Cultural Institute, Hay River Reserve.