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Outfitters in transition
Industry, Tourism and Investment renews alternative tourism funding help for one more year

Danielle Sachs
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 25, 2012

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment is renewing funding intended to assist former caribou hunting guides, but there's less cash available than in the past, according to one outfitter.

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Barry Taylor, seen here during a 2009 caribou hunt, says outfitters can't make the same amount of money in the tourism industry without the resumption of caribou hunts. -

Under the Tourism Product Diversification and Marketing Program, businesses can apply for funding to help with promotion, marketing, and promoting tourism activities that don't rely on harvesting or hunting.

The 2010-2011 fiscal year was supposed to be the final year of the program, with funds expiring by March 31, 2012, but it has been renewed for the 2012-2013 fiscal year and businesses have until July 9 to apply.

A lot of entrepreneurs using the funding are former hunting outfitters, who used to make the majority of their money guiding sport hunters to caribou. Now, after going without caribou tags for several seasons due to declining numbers of the animals to approximately 32,000 from 126,000 among the Bathurst herd in 2006 hunting outfitters are expanding into other fields.

Boyd Warner, owner of Arctic Safaris, once had large caribou hunting camps all over the NWT.

Now, he runs a few trips to Nunavut, where caribou hunting is still permitted. While Warner flies his tours out of Yellowknife, he has since relocated south of Hay River.

"We were quite large in the caribou hunting business," said Warner. "It made us re-look at things."

In the past two years Warner has accessed the government funding twice, and he said he's currently looking at the requirements for a third year of funding.

He has used the government funding for "mothballing" his NWT hunting camps putting them into long-term storage.

The program budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year was $1.3 million. For that year, there were 30 contributions given out to 29 different businesses across the NWT, with the entire budget allocated.

According to Warner, only half the original funding is available this year.

"All (the funding) does is help me a bit with maintenance. I call it forced retirement." - Barry Taylor

The Department Industry, Tourism and Investment could not be reached for comment by press deadline.

Barry Taylor, owner of Arctic Safaris, said the government can pour as much money as possible into the tourism industry but it won't make a difference to outfitters until the caribou hunt comes back.

"All (the funding) does is help me a bit with maintenance," he said. "I call it forced retirement."

It's impossible to make the same amount of income without the caribou hunt, especially given the cost of travelling to the NWT from other parts of Canada, Taylor said.

He tried offering fishing trips but found it's hard to convince people to come North and spend five or six thousand dollars.

"The fishing industry is really bad," he said. "It's a generational thing, it was fun when grandpa paid for the trip but now you can go on the same kind of trip in the south and pay less."

He said there's a wealth of resources in the territory but the government keeps making rules that end up discouraging people from visiting.

Even if outfitters are allowed to lead caribou hunts in the NWT again, it will take at least a decade for the industry to recover, according to Taylor. Not only would the industry have to regain the trust of clients, but skilled guides are becoming harder and harder to find, he said.

"There's no interest, we just can't compete with the diamond mines for pay and interest," he said.

Seeking compensation for lost caribou sports hunts, Taylor and Warner were among six outfitting companies that filed a $10 million lawsuit against the GNWT in March 2011.

There are three areas businesses can apply for funding, with the initial statement of interest due by July 9. Business planning and transition assistance helps tourism businesses develop new projects or expand existing ones. The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment said funds could be used for the development and implementation of business plans.

Product development and assistance provides companies with funding for new products or expanding existing products to appeal to new visitors to the NWT and grow the number of people visiting the territory each year.

Marketing assistance helps small businesses spread the word about their services. The department will provide funding for pamphlets, brochures, new or expanded websites and expenses related to travelling to trade shows and conferences.

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