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NNSL Photo

Aurora Corporation's Bill Tait stands beside Koyuki, a cartoon character of a little girl who comes to the Northwest Territories to experience the aurora, meets a boy, and falls in love. - photo courtesy of Aurora Corp.

Aurora rebuilding Japanese contacts

Stephan Burnett
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 27/03) - SARS, Mad Cow and 9/11 have all affected the tourism industry in Yellowknife as much, if not more than Toronto, says a city tourism operator.

Bill Tait, with Aurora Corporation, says Japanese tourism accounts for as much as $25 million a year in regional tourism dollars.

They come here to see the aurora borealis and enjoy the pristine wilderness.

"The general public is not aware of the difficulties the industry has gone through. Hotels occupancies are really bad. I know people like to be rosy but if the hotels told you what was going on, it's closer to 50 per cent occupancy -- it's really shocking," said Tait.

Yellowknife is one of the best places in the world to view the aurora. Many people have seen the white, green and purple hues of the aurora, but it's the occasional reds in Yellowknife's nighttime sky that make the capital city unique.

If the Japanese continue to come here, it will largely be due to people like Tait.

He travels to Japan three to five times a year to attend conferences and drum up business.

Tait has also been one of the primary promoters, along with writer Annelies Pool, of a cartoon character named Koyuki. Koyuki means Little Snow in English.

"He hired me as a writer to do the writing, it's going to be a continuing series. Koyuki is a Japanese girl who comes to see the aurora. It's the dream of her lifetime and she meets a boy, Teru, on the aurora tour and of course, it's spectacular,' said Pool.

"She's so excited a tear runs down her cheek and he puts his finger onto the tear and it turns into a diamond. We're working on other stories of their continuing love affair."

Tait's company, Aurora Corporation, is also building a 3,800 square foot visitor centre, located 30 kilometres outside of Yellowknife on Prelude Lake.

Aurora Corporation has sunk $800,000 into the development of the visitor centre, supported through a federal government loan.

The company expects to have the visitor centre open this winter, complete with an aurora viewing room, a theatre, diamond displays and gift shops.