N.W.T. gov't report hints at dramatic impacts of COVID-19 on tourism industry

·2 min read

A report produced by the N.W.T.'s department of industry, tourism and investment offers a peek into the dramatic negative impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked on the territory's tourism industry.

Released earlier this month, "Tourism in the NWT: A Year in Review: 2019-2020" examines the tourism industry's performance from April 2019 through March 2020. The study uses data from several sources, including airport exit surveys, parks permitting reports, and visitor exit surveys.

While the territory only saw a modest drop in visitors over that period — about two per cent — the monthly statistics for March 2020, when the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic and the territory closed its borders to non-essential travel, illustrate a dramatic drop.

Airport passengers across the territory fell precipitously compared to March 2019. At the Yellowknife airport, the territory's largest, 14,174 passengers transited through the airport in March 2020, a 53.3 per cent drop from the year before.

The decline was even greater in regional airport hubs: both Fort Smith and Hay River saw passenger volumes fall by more than 70 per cent, and in Fort Simpson, just six passengers were reported during the month, representing a drop of 99.5 per cent.

The report also tracks hotel occupancy in Yellowknife, where in March 2020, occupancy fell to 48.4 per cent, a drop of more than 36 per cent from the previous year. In February, one month before the global pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization, occupancy sat at more than 82 per cent.

Food and beverage spending in the territory during the month of March also fell by more than 32 per cent compared to the year prior.

While the numbers only capture the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic on the territory's tourism industry, they largely correlate with concerns raised by tourism operators in the territory, many of whom have said they have had to alter or close their businesses during the pandemic.

In April, Northwest Territories Tourism CEO Cathy Bolstad told CBC that they had already estimated an $18 million hit to the territory's tourism industry due to the pandemic.

In response, the territorial and federal governments have offered some tourism related supports to businesses, in addition to more general COVID-19 relief funding available to small businesses.

Territorial operators pivoted to "staycations" to residents during the summer months to cope with border restrictions, but still saw hundreds of job losses across the industry.