Instead of isolating in a hotel room, Canadian visitors to Yukon can now apply to isolate on a trip in the backcountry.
The Wilderness Tourism Association of Yukon (WTAY) came up with the idea after seeing the government approve alternative self-isolation plans for the mining industry and for outdoor outfitters last year.
It was approved by Yukon health officials last month.
"For the operators that choose to conduct business this summer, this is the way forward," Kalin Pallett, WTAY's president, told CBC's Elyn Jones on Yukon Morning. "There's no community contact at all, unless the trip is more than 14 days."
Safety is paramount
According to the Yukon government's website, outdoor tourism operators and Canadian clients can make alternative self-isolation plans. Companies have to apply for an exemption by completing an operation plan and submitting it for approval.
"Canadian guests are intercepted at the airport by the operator and taken out to the backcountry, as expeditiously as possible," explained Pallett. If the trip is more than 14 days long, they're able to interact with the general public afterwards.
"If it's less than 14 days, then they need to exit the Yukon as expeditiously as they arrived," he said.
The association came up with a set of management practices for wilderness tourism operators amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pallett said they include a step-by-step guide on how to greet guests and how to get them to the backcountry along an approved travel corridor, and what to do if a guide or client develops COVID-19 symptoms while on the trip.
"We are Yukoners, we live here, we raise families here, keeping you safe is paramount. These guidelines do that," he said.
Pallett said although WTAY has received blanket approval for all of the outdoor tourism operators who are part of its membership, each operator will need to submit its own operational plan to the government's COVID Response Unit.
"I don't anticipate seeing visitors into the territory until probably mid to late June."
'From disastrous to surreal'
Pallett said the alternative isolation plan isn't a solution for every outdoor tourism operator in the territory, but it does offer a lifeline to some.
"I don't think I can possibly overstate how absolutely devastating [the pandemic] was. I mean, we've got businesses that haven't generated a revenue for well over a year now," he said.
Neil Hartling, chair of Tourism Industry Association Yukon, told Yukon Morning that being able to isolate in the backcountry is "one tiny bit of helpful change."
But he also noted it only applies to a small number of operators.
"I would describe the situation right now as going from disastrous to surreal," Hartling said.
Operators are struggling to retain staff as they pursue other lines of work, he said, and they're struggling to get insurance.
"It's getting harder, not only expensive, but harder to get," he said. "Insurance wholesalers are moving out of what they would consider riskier markets completely, so there's fewer selling and rates are going up."
Pallet believes isolating while on a trip is better than isolating in a hotel because it removes the temptation to violate public health orders by quickly grabbing a coffee or a souvenir somewhere.
"They don't have that option, because they're not in town," he said. "So, if anything, I think it's actually keeping Yukoners safe."