A survey by NWT Tourism found hundreds of tourism workers lost jobs to the pandemic, and of those businesses that were able to offer "staycations," most earned less than half their 2019 summer revenue.
Ninety-four people responded to the survey conducted late this summer. Three-quarters of those are licensed tour operators while the remainder run businesses that support tourism; most had fewer than 20 employees.
Respondents reported that 443 full-time and 405 part-time jobs had been lost since March.
"It cemented for us what we were hearing," said Cathie Bolstad, chief executive officer of NWT Tourism. "It's been devastating."
Nearly 60 per cent of respondents said their revenue had decreased 75 to 100 per cent in the first seven months of 2020. Only one in five businesses remain fully open. Forty-two per cent were closed, either temporarily or permanently.
The survey also included questions about this summer's "staycation" initiative, which offered free promotional activities to tourism operators marketing opportunities to locals. Only about 25 per cent of survey respondents took part in the initiative. Of those, 71 per cent projected summer revenues would still be less than half of last year's earnings.
"It showed us what we believed all along," Bolstad said. "We've been a tourism industry in the N.W.T. relying on 120,000-plus external visitors coming in who want to try things that are everyday things for N.W.T. residents and who are willing to pay a price and a premium for doing those things."
The survey found that 63 per cent of businesses relied on non-N.W.T. residents for 90 per cent or more of their income in 2019.
But Bolstad points to one positive outcome out of the staycation project: more northerners got a glimpse of what local tour outfitters provide, and will be in a better position to promote and support the industry once borders reopen.
Survey respondents named three things they need from the territorial government: open borders; help to cover costs to remain viable; and financial help to reconfigure to meet COVID-19 safety requirements.
Bolstad clarified that the industry supports keeping the border closed, for now, for reasons of health and safety. But, she said, the territorial government needs to be working with industry to prepare for a reopening.