Tourism operators in Yukon are already planning for when travel picks up, post-pandemic.
A $2.5 million publicly-funded program was announced this week to help them, offering funding to operators who want to evolve their businesses, and professional mentorship to operators looking for advice and information.
A release says the program, dubbed ELEVATE, is administered through Yukon University and several industry associations, including the Yukon First Nation Culture and Tourism Association, the Wilderness Tourism Association of the Yukon and the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon.
The program is meant to encourage Yukon's tourism industry to contribute to a rethinking, restructuring and rebuilding of tourism in the territory, according to the release. It's expected 100 tourism operators will apply.
Blake Rogers, the executive director of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, said the new program is separate from other initiatives that provide financial relief during the pandemic.
"This is for when the travel restrictions are eased and when we're able to really kind of kick it into high gear, back into attracting visitors to the territory in a bigger way," Rogers said.
The program is funded 95 per cent by the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and five per cent by the territorial government, he said.
The travel industry has been hit hard by the pandemic and most of Yukon's visitors come from outside Canada. Air arrivals in Whitehorse, from April through June, were down 96 per cent.
The program in part matches tourism operators with mentors, said Alessia Guthrie, a strategic program officer with Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Yukon University.
"The program launched on the 15th of September and the first selection committee met last Tuesday, so the first set of applications are already moving through," she said.
Businesses can apply to two separate streams: one allows operators to apply for a grant of up to $5,000 that could fund things like financial and marketing plans, Guthrie said. The other stream lets people apply for up to $15,000 in funding for adaption projects.
"That helps to develop new services, products, things that can help businesses really create a new dimension to be more competitive ... given the new realities," Rogers explained.
The chair of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, Neil Hartling, has offered himself as a potential mentor. He has 35 years experience in wilderness tourism.
Hartling said now is a good time for operators to have a second set of eyes to take a look at their businesses. He worries the tourism expertise and infrastructure that's been built up in Yukon over the decades could be lost due to the lack of business.
"This is a great opportunity for tourism operators to be doing it now, and especially at this time when the world is changing right in front of our eyes," he said.