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Fuel not a factor

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 20, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - If tourists are staying away from the NWT because of higher gas and diesel prices in the North, no one seems to be noticing.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Wendy Makepeace, a tourist information officer in Hay River, doesn't believe high fuel prices affect tourism in the NWT. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Despite the occasional complaint, tourists are still coming North by car, truck and RV.

"I've heard people grumble about the price of gas," said Mike Keizer, the acting chair of the Fort Smith Tourism Advisory Board.

However, Keizer said that doesn't happen a lot, just occasionally.

"I don't know if it's stopping tourists, but they're certainly noticing it," he said.

Keizer said there is no way the NWT can influence the price of gas.

"All we can do is offer the best service and hope they feel they got value for their money," he said of tourists.

Wendy Makepeace, a tourist information officer at the Hay River Visitor Information Centre, said she doesn't think the price of fuel affects the number of visitors.

Up to the end of July, rough figures show that 68 people from the U.S., 150 from East ern Canada and 74 from overseas have dropped into the centre, along with many more from western and Northern Canada.

"Most of the people from the United States are driving huge motor homes," Makepeace said, adding the vehicles use either gas or diesel.

She noted many Europeans also come to Canada and rent RVs to travel around.

The Europeans appear to be used to high fuel prices because it is also expensive in their homelands, she said.

"They think nothing of it."

However, she noted a lot of the RVers will ask if the price of fuel is the same at all service stations in Hay River, explaining they are looking for the best bargain.

"They comment on the difference in prices as they come North," she added.

Makepeace noted most travellers have done some research before they come and are not surprised by the higher prices.

"I think the majority of people expect it."

One traveller from Quebec passing through Hay River on the way to Inuvik and Alaska was ready for the higher fuel prices. The man was driving a Smart Car and spent only $217 to get to Hay River.

John Bass, the communications and public relations co-ordinator with NWT Tourism, also doesn't see fuel prices hurting tourism.

"I don't think as a rule gasoline prices have been that big a factor," Bass said.

RVers often plan their trips two or three years in advance, and their plans are not going to scaled back by gas prices, he noted.

Bass said gas prices are also a concern in the United States. "Everyone realizes it can be volatile."

No statistics are yet available on the number of visitors to the NWT this summer.

Bass said it appears tourism in the NWT has been steady this year. A tourist from Alberta confirms the belief that fuel prices are not deterring travellers.

Fred Mills of Spirit River said it is not a factor.

"It's something you're going to pay," Mills said. "Next year, it may be even more. If we decide to come North, we'd do it again."

Mills and his wife, Theresa, were travelling in a diesel-powered truck towing a 30-foot camper.

On Aug. 9, they were relaxing in Hay River Territorial Park.

Mills said he did notice that diesel got more expensive the further North he and his wife travelled.