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Inuvik tourism in decline
Inuvik Chamber of Commerce says industry could be a sustainable staple of town's economy

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 24, 2012

With spring taking a firm hold on the Arctic and summer just around the corner, preparations are underway to ramp up to the 2012 tourist season in Inuvik.

NNSL photo/graphic

The Western Arctic Visitors Centre, along with territorial parks and other tourist operations in Inuvik, is set to open its doors for the 2012 tourist season on May 28. - Laura Busch/NNSL photo

Stakes are high for Inuvik's tourist industry. With so many other industries in decline in the North, tourism offers a sustainable alternative for bringing money into the community, said Newton Grey, the president of Inuvik's Chamber of Commerce.

"Is there an industry that can be sustainable with or without the pipeline? Yes," said Grey. "What it is, is tourism."

The Inuvik regional parks Jak Territorial Park, Happy Valley Territorial Park and Gwich'in Territorial Park, as well as Nitainlaii Territorial Park near Fort McPherson will open officially on June 1. The Western Arctic Visitors Centre in Inuvik is scheduled to open its doors to the public on May 28.

While Inuvik works hard to sell itself as a travel destination, the numbers for the last two years are somewhat discouraging.

Tourism for the NWT as a whole has remained fairly stable over the last several years.

"There has been a decline in visitation to the Inuvik region, but to the territory as a whole, it's been pretty constant," said Sarah Marsh, manager of research and planning for the GNWT's tourism and parks department.

The Inuvik regional parks saw "a drastic decrease" in visitors between 1993 and 2010, said Don Craik, Inuvik regional superintendent of Industry, Tourism and Investment. In 1993, there were 6,400 users of the four parks in question, whereas in 2010, there were just 2,500 permits sold at these parks.

This decrease is likely due to the high cost of fuel, as well as the tightening of the

U.S.-Canada border, said Craik.

A good portion of tourists to Inuvik are what Craik calls "rubber tire traffic," or visitors who travel by road up the Dempster Highway to Inuvik. In 2010, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment measured that about 45 to 50 per cent of visitors to the Dawson City, Yukon, ventured to the end of the Dempster and also visited Inuvik, said Craik.

Data on tourists in the Inuvik region is collected through visitor exit surveys once every four years. This survey targets passengers leaving through airports, is sent out by mail as well as conducted by telephone with road travellers who give their phone numbers through a program at roadside visitors centres, said Marsh.

The numbers gained through these surveys suggest the current tactics for promoting tourism in the Inuvik region are not working. This is something the GNWT has recognized, said Craik.

"Territorially, we are beginning to market our parks as a tourism product in hopes that this will encourage more travel," he said.

For Grey, there are many features of Inuvik and the surrounding area that could be better promoted to tourists. For example, it is short-sighted to only promote summer tourism in Inuvik, he said. After all, the winters here cannot be experienced in many travel destinations, whereas summer camping can.

"I think the first move is to see Inuvik as a true tourism destination year-round," said Grey. "And having embraced that, help the people who live here to see it. If you've done that, mission accomplished, because let me tell you, nobody can sell Inuvik like the people who live here.

"In this day and age, there is absolutely no excuse to be ignorant. We should be at a point where we can say 'OK, that thing that you read about, here it is.'"

The benefits of increasing tourism in Inuvik would be for everyone in the town, not just tour operators, said Grey. Everything from the turnover of groceries in the stores to the kinds of businesses that would be profitable would be affected.

The key to making tourism successful in Inuvik is offering visitors the cultural experience that draws many of them to the Arctic, said Grey. Luckily, there are many people already within the community who are capable of filling that gap.

"We have a lot of people here in town who are unemployed or underemployed who have the information," he said. "We have wonderful people, and that's all you need for tourism."

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