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Sad for family, relieved for business
Foul play being ruled out in woman's presumed death better for tourism: operators

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Published Friday, November 7, 2014

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE
Yellowknife tourism officials say they feel very badly for the family of a Japanese tourist who is now presumed dead, but at the same time they say they are relieved that it appears there is nothing suspicious about her disappearance.

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Foul play has been ruled out in the case of Atsumi Yoshikubo, who is now presumed dead a fact that tourism operators are satisfied with. - NNSL file photo

Colin Dempsey, president of the Northern Frontier's Visitor's Association, said he was quite saddened to hear the news Tuesday that Yellowknife RCMP is presuming 45-year-old Atsumi Yoshikubo is dead.

"My condolences go out to the family," said Dempsey. "But there is also a sense of relief that foul play has been ruled out in her disappearance."

It will almost certainly mean that potential Japanese tourists will not be deterred from travelling to Yellowknife because of the Yoshikubo incident, he said.

"If foul play had been involved then it may have led to a downturn in Japanese tourism in Yellowknife and the NWT," said Dempsey.

"Potential Japanese tourists might think if something bad happened to her then it could happen to them. But now that they know that she walked into a wilderness area on her own and wanted to become a missing person, those same people will be saying, 'That's not what I want to do. I won't be wandering off on my own if I go to Yellowknife.'"

She also likely didn't die in an accident of some sort, said Dempsey.

"If she'd been hurt or killed while out walking the trails, for instance, again that might deter some Japanese tourists from travelling to Yellowknife," he said.

Dempsey said he's not aware of any calls to the visitor's centre from possible Japanese tourists who were having reservations about coming to Yellowknife because of Yoshikubo's disappearance.

"We've fielded plenty of calls from Japanese media, but none that I'm aware of from Japanese tourists wondering if it is safe in Yellowknife."

Yumi Kuromasa, office manager at Aurora Wonderland and Beck's Kennels, agrees with Dempsey's sentiments.

"I feel really bad that this has happened," she said. "But at least we now have peace of mind knowing that she was not kidnapped or killed, nor did she die in an accident."

Yellowknife is not a dangerous place and people are very nice, Kuromasa said.

"I always tell our Japanese visitors that and nothing has happened to change my feelings," she said.

Kuromasa said they have lots of tourist bookings in December and January from Japanese travellers. They did not receive a single cancellation because of Yoshikubo's disappearance.

"I don't believe this incident is going to hurt our business," she said. "The Japanese tourists are now realizing that this was an isolated incident. I don't think any of them will not come to Yellowknife because of it."

Among other activities, Aurora Wonderland and Beck's Kennels offers sled dog rides and aurora viewing, two things that many, if not most Japanese visitors want to partake in when they come to Yellowknife. Kuromasa moved to Canada from Japan about three years ago and said she had not been in contact with anyone in Japan since police called off the search for Yoshikubo. She was not certain how the story was being received in Japan.

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) sent out a fact sheet during the height of the search for Yoshikubo. Officials stated that in the past two years, close to 30,000 Japanese visitors have come to the NWT. Numbers have been steadily increasing since 2001 and since 2008 the NWT has hosted more than 60,000 visitors from Japan, officials stated.

There are currently five tour operators in the territory offering services to Japanese visitors, all of them located in Yellowknife. ITI officials also stated there are two primary groups of Japanese visitors to the NWT: young women in their late 20s and early 30s, travelling in pairs or alone, and elderly or retired married couples. The Mounties in Yellowknife called off their search for Yoshikubo on Monday of this week and she is now considered missing and presumed dead, according to RCMP Const. Elenore Sturko. Yoshikubo was reported missing to the RCMP on Oct. 27 when she failed to check out of the Explorer Hotel and missed her flight home to Japan.

Police recovered her belongings from her hotel room and said the state they were left in suggested she expected to return. Ground and aerial searches were conducted around Yellowknife and further out the Ingraham Trail but no sign of her ever materialized.

"The RCMP investigation has determined that Yoshikubo arrived in Yellowknife with a plan to go into the wilderness alone and become a missing person," said Sturko.

"The investigation also revealed that she took steps to avoid being found."

Sturko has not said exactly how police arrived at that conclusion, saying it is part of the evidence. She also hasn't said why police presume she is dead but Sturko did confirm there is no indication of foul play in Yoshikubo's disappearance. Although the active search has been called off, Sturko said the investigation remains open.

She refused to classify Yoshikubo's presumed death as a suicide.

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