The COVID-19 pandemic decimated tourism to Labrador's Indigenous lands but a revised tourism strategy and the reopening of the Torngat Mountains Base Camp are aimed at helping to revive the industry.
Base Camp at Torngat National Park was closed in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic but has been reopened for bookings for the 2022 season.
"Obviously, it's been very disappointing that we weren't able to invite guests into the Torngats and share the experience with them," said Sarah Leo, chief operating officer of the Nunatsiavut Group of Companies, which operates the site with Air Borealis and Parks Canada.
While awaiting guests, Leo said, they have been working to upgrade some cosmetic aspects and visitor capacity at Base Camp, 700 kilometres north of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The group is also working to implement COVID-19 protocols, said Travis Barbour, managing director of Air Borealis.
"We are all aware of the COVID-19 pandemic, so we'll definitely be keeping our eye on the public health guidelines and any advisories from our communities," he said.
Air Borealis and the other partners are working with guests on the changing public health situation as well, Barbour said. People booking are made aware the public health regulations may change, and Barbour said they'll work through any details with guests directly.
The group is accepting international bookings with the understanding that things may change, he said. As well, there will be more sanitization around Base Camp and they are exploring options like keeping excursions and meal times to family bubbles.
"This is not new for us now. There is a lot of new things coming, but we're just keeping up with how we provide a safe environment for our guests," Barbour said.
Tourism Department hopes new strategy can preserve culture
Along with reopening the Base Camp site, the Nunatsiavut government's Department of Tourism hopes a new five-year tourism strategy will help bring more visitors into their communities. The plan includes a regional storytelling project to help people in Nunatsiavut communities become more comfortable sharing stories with visitors and an awareness campaign to promote the region and build further partnerships.
Jillian Larkham of the Department of Tourism said welcoming visitors helps the communities in ways people might not expect.
"Tourism is a way to help preserve our culture and our history because a lot of the experiences that are offered or that could be offered are all indigenous cultural experiences," Larkham said. "It's a good way to help preserve our culture and our history."
Larkham hopes they'll be able to offer more experiences and bring more people into the region over the next five years.
"People might be drawn to the area because of the remoteness and just the beauty and the scenery," Larkham said.
"But there's so many stories about our communities and our people and I think a visit to Nunatsiavut or the Torngats is something that, when you experience a place with the people, you leave feeling like you're a different person."