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A wait and see approach

Travel and tourism holds steady despite setbacks

Nathan VanderKlippe & Sarah Holland
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Oct 24/01) - Despite a North America-wide slowdown in air travel and predictions of steep drops in the tourism industry, many Yellowknife travel and tourism companies have seen little change in their numbers.

Although some American and Japanese tourists were forced to stay home when North American skies were cleared on Sept. 11 and the days following, tourist operators said that future bookings are holding fairly close to season norms.

"The winter season bookings right now are positive, but we'll still need at least another month or two to really tell how the whole season will look," said Raven Tours president Bill Tait.

Tait, who works almost exclusively with Japanese tourists, said a sales manager currently touring Japan has reported that "the initial reaction is pretty positive."

Tait's company hosts 12,000 tourists a year, and lost 350 clients in the days following Sept. 11. He estimated that the Yellowknife economy lost "a few hundred thousand dollars" as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Some blame the economy

Ragnar Wesstrom, president of Enodah Wilderness Travel, said a group of six New York duck hunters cancelled their trip, but had already paid the $1,500 US fee. Wesstrom said the tourists he spoke with seemed more fearful of the economy than terrorists.

"The economy is getting tougher," he said. "Everybody is a little nervous and everybody should be nervous. We don't have any indication that we're going to lose any business for the winter. But we're crossing our fingers that nothing else is happening on the terrorist front."

Boyd Warner, owner of Bathurst Developments, said nine caribou hunters from the eastern U.S. cancelled their trips when they were unable to fly north. Warner allowed them to postpone their trips, which cost $3,600 US a piece, until next year.

Although he has already received payment for those trips, he said will suffer a loss next season, since he will have nine less spots available.

One person who didn't cancel was in the Pentagon when it was struck, Warner said.

Warner said increased security measures at airports have not stopped his clients from transporting weapons by air. "Guys are saying travelling with firearms is OK as long as you give enough notice.

"Some of the longest delays were between Edmonton and Yellowknife, because in the States people just shut down so much that airlines were flying around half-empty," he said.

Not all businesses suffering

At the Explorer Hotel, it's pretty much business as usual, said Denie Olmstead, director of operations.

Olmstead has seen numbers this year equal to typical fall figures.

"Usually our average occupancy is 40 per cent in October, and this year we're the same," said Olmstead. "We've had small cancellations in our Japanese season but nothing that can be seen as a huge hit."

As for people leaving travelling from Yellowknife, the numbers have dwindled for vacationing Northerners.

"There's been cancellations of people taking tours, vacation trips to exotic places," said Don Yamkowy, an owner/manager of Nishi Khon Key West Travel.

"People are cancelling on cruise packages because you have to fly to get to the cruises. Two cruise ship companies have recently gone bankrupt, because of cancellations and cash flow problems, I assume," said Yamkowy.

"Our business is 80 per cent corporate travel," said Yamkowy. "We have contracts with some of the mines, and that's steady business. People are looking forward towards building.

"We have seen businesses curtail non-essential travel."

Yamkowy is optimistic about the future of the travel business.

"It will come back, but how long will it take?"