Raving about northern lights
Tour company predicts continued growth

Doug Ashbury
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 08/00) - Yes, we do have a parka that fits a sumo wrestler, says Raven Tours operations manager Jared Minty.

"It took awhile to find it, but we did," says Minty, who spoke Monday at the Yellowknife Inn during a Northern Manufacturers' Association seminar on doing business in Japan.

The sumo wrestler -- not at the meeting -- is among thousands of Japanese tourists who have been brought to Yk by Bill Tait's Raven Tours company to see the northern lights.

The northern lights, which are rarely seen in Japan, are visible only from the northern island of Hokkaido about every 80 years.

Raven Tours has brought in 5,300 Japanese tourists to see the lights so far this winter, and with one month to go, that number is expected to hit 6,000, Minty says. Growth has been 20 per cent to 40 per cent per year.

In 1989, when the tours were first created, about 80 Japanese tourists visited Yellowknife for the aurora experience.

"Raven Tours waited four years before going to Japan to do direct marketing. Bill Tait feels many companies don't wait until the product is ready for export," says Minty. Indirect marketing was done by selling the product through other tour companies.

When a company is ready to do direct marketing, "meeting and establishing connections in Japan is essential," adds Minty.

Raven Tours has made at least 35 trips to Japan over the past six years. Minty conservatively estimated that the Japanese inject $5 million into the Yk economy.

After a 14-hour flight, Raven Tours picks up Japanese tourists at the airport and they head straight into their holiday with a four-hour aurora tour.

Dog sled rides are another popular event during their average three-day stay in Yk. Some go on snowmachine rides and there is also an option for a free day to explore the city on their own. Locals easily spot the visitors as they are provided with red parkas. Another sign of the growing number of Japanese is the growing number of Japanese signs in local businesses.

So, how many Japanese are in Yk on a given day? This past Monday there were 300, and one day in February, there were over 400 in the city.