Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad

Thanks to the strong Canadian dollar and a number of other factors, lodges and outfitters fear they'll be left searching harder for guests than fish this summer. - John Curran/NNSL photo

Loonie hurts lodges

Stephan Burnett
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 23/05) - NWT lodge owners are working feverishly to lure guests north, but not many folks are biting.

This is a busy season with operators crisscrossing the continent to ply the normally fertile waters of sportsman shows in southern Canada and the U.S., but things are different in 2005.

A year ago a U.S. dollar would buy about $1.53 Canadian. Today it's closer to $1.17.

That's a huge drop in buying power for U.S. visitors. "That's a 25 per cent decrease in revenue," said Gary Jaeb, who together with his son Daniel, runs Mackay Lake Lodge.

Over at Blachford Lake Lodge and Conference Resort, Mike Freeland said the conference, aurora viewing and ecotourism visitor numbers also off by about 10 per cent from where they were in 2000.

"Our American fishing market is down and a lot is due to the dollar exchange," he said. "It's definitely hurting."

The recent chilling of Canada-U.S. relations has also had a negative affect.

"Part of it is due to the war in Iraq," he said.

"Some American fisherman were unhappy we didn't help them in the war effort."

The recent decision by Prime Minister Paul Martin to keep the country out of the U.S. missile defence plan is producing similar results.

"Just last week I had four hunters call up and cancel," said Jaeb, adding they blamed their decision on Canada's foreign policy.

At Enodah Wilderness Travel, Ragnar Wesstrom said the government of the NWT has done very little to support for lodge owners.

"It's all diamonds and oil and gas," he said. "Tourism is not on the table and business is pretty tough."

Wesstrom said he's also concerned by the age of a lot of the sport fishermen coming North.

"These guys are in their 70s and paying the tab and bringing their sons and grandsons," he said. "When these old guys die off, the younger guys may not be so interested in spending money on fishing and hunting."

With so many factors cutting into the Northern tourism industry's traditional markets, operators agree getting their names known in other regions becomes that much more critical.

The Jaebs have been to six trade shows this year alone including ones in Dallas, Mount Pleasant, Mich., Calgary and Edmonton. He said you can never do too much marketing in the tourism business -- the only problem is the cost.

"We host television productions, travel writers, we do direct mail, newspaper and magazine advertising and maintain a website," said Jaeb. "We've cut back more recently, but there have been years where we've spent as much as $120,000. Now it's down to about $40,000."

Even if the majority of a lodge's new business comes from referrals, Jaeb said you can never rely totally on word-of-mouth.

"If 80 per cent of your customers come through referrals that means you need to acquire 20 per cent new customers every year," he said.