Tourism tussle
Premier gave mixed message, charges tourism promoter
Fact File: Tourism tally
Total visitors - 1998-99 - 35,323
Estimated revenue - $25 million
Direct investment by government in tourism - $1.6 million
Anticipated annual investment in non-renewable resource sector - $25 million

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 17/00) - It's important for the premier to pump the burgeoning diamond, oil and gas industries of the NWT, but Canada's most important tourism convention is not the time or place to do it, says a tourism association manager.

 Rebecca Jaud, manager of the Northern Frontier Visitors Association, took exception to comments Premier Stephen Kakfwi (left) made during a brief speech he gave to kick off an NWT reception at the May 6-11 Rendezvous Canada convention.

"He opened and closed with comments on diamonds and oil and gas," said Jaud.

"Maybe the person who briefed him didn't stress the fact that these people don't want to hear that, they want to hear what we're doing for tourism."

Rendezvous Canada, held in Calgary, brings tourism buyers from all over the world together with Canadian tourism operators such as lodges, outfitters and airlines. European and U.S. operators buy tourism products for packaging to sell to clients.

Sellers pay $2,000 for a place at the convention -- that is, if they can get it. There's a three-year waiting list to get into the annual event, which is not open to the public. Over 2,000 tourism industry officials and delegates attended the convention. Jaud said the main task for NWT tourism operators is to convince buyers they have a product -- whether it be canoeing trips on the Barrens or gazing at the Northern lights tours -- that will appeal to their clients.

"They want to be assured we're focused on tourism and that their clients are going to have a good experience," said Jaud.

"It just didn't need to be mentioned there."

An official with the territorial government offered one possible explanation for the mixed message -- the premier developed a nosebleed while delivering his speech and had to cut it short. A look at Kakfwi's speaking notes reveals that if he omitted his closing remarks, the short speech would have ended with statements about the developing non-renewable resource industry. Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development Minister Joe Handley said the tourism and non-renewable resource development are connected.

"We very seldom can talk just one and totally ignore the other," said Handley. "I can tell you (Kakfwi) believes the future of many of the little communities is going to based on tourism and other on-the-land activities. Not everyone is going to have a pipeline going by their door or a diamond mine."

Handley said he and Kakfwi have addressed tourism in presentations to oil and gas people. He noted the non-renewable resources strategy the government released last week includes the establishment of a fund for economic diversification.

Membership of the Northern Frontier Visitors Association is composed mainly of tourism businesses in the North Slave Area. It runs the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre.

The elaborate reception, featuring traditional dancers, drummers, fiddlers and NWT food, was co-ordinated by NWT Arctic Tourism, the territorial counterpart of the Northern Frontier Visitors Association.

NWT Arctic Tourism executive director Colleen Bruce said her organization feels Kakfwi's comments were entirely appropriate. "We put on a class show, and that's what we need to get people, including the oil and gas and diamond people, to support tourism," said Bruce.

"We can't just sit in the background and cry that Mr. Kakfwi spoke about diamonds. That's part of his mandate as well, resources, wildlife and economic development."

Bruce added the association was quite pleased with the support from the legislative assembly, noting that in addition to Kakfwi, NWT Commissioner Glenna Hansen, Handley, Mackenzie Delta MLA David Krutko and Frame Lake MLA Charles Dent were in attendance.