NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Aurora-viewing tourism shines
Northern lights draw record number of visitors as fishing tourism continues downward trend

Lyndsay Herman
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 28, 2013

After a record number of tourists cast their eyes skyward to see Northern lights this past season, NWT Tourism plans to net more fishing tourists in 2014 as their number continue to dive.

NNSL photo/graphic

The Northern lights swirl overhead outside Enodah Trout Lake Lodge, located on the North Arm of Great Slave Lake. A record number of aurora viewers visited Yellowknife this past tourist season. - photo courtesy of Enodah Wilderness Travel and Trout Rock Lodge

According to new tourism estimates released by NWT Tourism last week, 15,700 aurora viewers travelled to the Northwest Territories from around the world. They travelled from countries such as Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, Britain, Germany, Switzerland and more, up 112 per cent from 7,400 aurora viewers from the previous season.

"That number smashes our previous record, which was pre-Sept. 11, of approximately 12,000 aurora viewers," said Brian Desjardins, executive director of NWT Tourism.

Aurora viewer numbers plummeted following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks nearly a dozen years ago, but have been on a gradual increase since 2009.

"We're very pleased," Desjardins said.

"Overall, we've seen a 17 per cent increase in visitors from about 65,000 to 75,000 visitors and overall we've seen an increase from the year previous on visitor spending, from approximately $100 million to $106 million."

Most other categories of visitors also recorded increases, such as general touring, up 10 per cent to 14,800 visitors.

The numbers of those visiting friends and relatives was up 17 per cent to 13,800.

Business travel stayed roughly the same at 24,100.

However, fishing tourism continued an almost decade-long decline, dropping 15 per cent to 4,000.

"That is obviously very concerning to us," Desjardins said.

In response, NWT Tourism is putting out a request for proposals to conduct an audit of the industry. The audit will explore the products and services of the territory's lodges and fishing operators to see what's been successful and what hasn't been.

An audit of competitors in the north of the provinces will also be included in the analysis and past marketing activities of NWT Tourism and marketing by the competition will be reviewed, as well.

A profile of tourists who have already fished in the NWT will be assembled from interviews in which they will be asked why they chose the NWT over other locales.

"All of that research is going to lead to phase two, which will be taking that information and helping us re-brand our fishing sector so that when we do our niche marketing and various magazines and publications, (it will provide an answer to) what message are we going to send to them to convince them to come to the NWT to fish," Desjardins said.

"It will give us, ultimately, a strategy."

Desjardins said the research is scheduled to be completed by Christmas, with focus group sessions planned for early in the new year.

A new marketing campaign will be released by next spring, prior to next year's summer fishing season, he said.

More than in past years, NWT Tourism is also hosting media-familiarization tours focused on the fishing sector. For the tours, writers and broadcasters for fishing publications and other programs will be brought up for visits to lodges in the Northwest Territories.

There are also plans for travel-trade familiarization tours, in which operators come North to experience fishing in the territory and establish relationships with NWT lodges so when they return south they can further sell fishing packages to customers.

Marketing to aurora viewers around the world will also continue to grow in the coming year, Desjardins said.

NWT Tourism received a three-year influx of $1.2 million from CanNor in 2012 to expand current activities in Japan and create new promotional inroads in China and South Korea.

"We're expanding in those markets and we're expanding in Europe, primarily Germany and Switzerland," Desjardins said.

"And, of course, 78 per cent of our visitors come from Canada, so we're going to do more things in North America."

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.