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Visitors enticed North

Chris Hunsley
Northern News Services

Inuvik (July 29/05) - Don't be surprised to see flocks of Japanese tourists in the Mackenzie-Delta in years to come.

Inuvik's own tourism guru, Judith Venaas, regional tourism officer for the department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, spent the week representing the NWT at Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan.

NNSL Photo

With a floor plan of the VIP room in the Canada Pavilion at Expo 2005 in Aichi, Japan, Judith Venaas, regional tourism officer in Inuvik, shows where artists representing the North will be stationed while demonstrating their craft.

"It's a great opportunity for me to be part of a team that's putting on this type of promotion for the NWT," she said. "I feel privileged to be asked."

Displays for NWT Week are set up in the Canada Pavilion from July 25-29.

The two main objectives are to increase awareness of the NWT and promote business relationships, arts and culture, diamonds and tourism with the Japanese, said Venaas.

"We'd like to see more Japanese visitors and to see those tourists in the communities also," she said.

Premier Joe Handley and Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment Brendan Bell were both in attendance.

Along with the premier's reception and other events targeting Japanese business and tourism leaders, a qiviut fashion show, a diamond display by Harry Winston and a cultural afternoon were to take place throughout the week.

Five NWT artists were chosen to take part in the permanent exhibit, where they will create and exhibit in front of dignitaries and guests.

"They will be working and we've asked that they dress in traditional clothing," said Venaas, who explained the artists were chosen to represent a variety of Northern art forms.

Michael Cazon of Fort Simpson was to perform Dene drumming; Lee Mandeville will showcase his fiddling, Antoine Mountain was to create and display some of his paintings; Brendalynn "Inuk" Trennert creates moose hair tuftings; and Karen Wright-Fraser is skilled at several traditional arts, including beading and sewing.

Good business

Japanese aurora viewing has grown exponentially since 1989, when fewer than 100 tourists visited the territory from Japan every year.

"Today we have about 10,000 each year," said Richard Zieba, economic planner with ITI, who noted the numbers had peaked at 13,000 before Sept. 11, 2001.

Tourism across the country has suffered since 9-11 and the SARS outbreak and numbers are just starting to climb back up, he explained.

Participation in Expo is thought to have the potential to increase those numbers and draw visitors into the North for more than just Aurora viewing.

That part of the industry is strong, said Venaas, adding that they'd like to see more Japanese operators get involved.

"We'd also like to promote the rest of the NWT communities, hunting, fishing and all the other great activities the NWT has to offer," she said.

Aurora viewers spend an estimated $12 million annually in the territory.