The Yukon Government is spending half a million dollars to encourage Yukoners to travel within the territory this summer, by creating new incentives for residents to explore their own backyard.
Neil Hartling, president of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, says the fund is a "great way to encourage Yukoners to seize the moment and make that dream experience come true that many have maybe been putting off."
"This is a way … to reward Yukoners for spending time in the Yukon, which is kind of crazy. But it is the plan," he said.
"Very importantly, it's a way to provide some, call it survival money, to operators who are able to offer tour packages," he said.
Hartling said the Yukon boasts "iconic features" and has sites with a UNESCO World Heritage designation, all worthy of resident travellers paying a visit.
The $500,000 investment in tourism recovery is something to celebrate, he said.
When COVID-19 hit, tourism operators and non-governmental organizations worked together to come up with relief and recovery programs.
"I think we've achieved the best in the world, actually, no exaggeration," said Hartling.
The government introduced the On Yukon Time: Great Yukon Summer Edition funding and rebate program to encourage people to "revisit or discover for the first time the world-class cultural and outdoor experiences" the territory has to offer, a news release states.
In-territory travel will generate some "much-needed" revenue for Yukon businesses and industries like entertainment and hospitality, which have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
How the fund works
In total, there will be $500,000 in new funding for festivals, events and summer entertainment. Up to $250,000 is being distributed through the Arts Fund or Arts Operating Fund.
The program includes funding for Yukon businesses and marketing campaigns.
A minimum of $250,000 is available through the On Yukon Time: Great Yukon Summer Edition funding program, and applications for public evens planned between June 21 and Sept. 30 are now able to apply.
There are awards up to $15,000 for non-profits, industry and community associations, First Nations and municipal governments, businesses and collectives to cover 80 per cent of eligible costs.
Pre-planned events that did not get funding from the Department of Tourism and Culture can apply for the funding if they meet eligibility criteria.
Travel rebate program
In a bid to increase travel within the territory, the government is introducing a 25 per cent rebate for packaged tourism experiences from June 4 to Sept. 30. These packages will be offered by local tourism businesses, starting at $250 per person.
Those packages, as well as flights and air travel within the territory, will be available by June 4 on their website.
Yukoners pay full package price upfront, and submit a simple application with receipts and declaration proving they live in the territory. The rebate applications must be submitted by Oct. 31 and are available after the trip is complete.
For businesses looking to broaden their reach to Yukoners, there is up to $2,000 available for advertising from a Yukon marketing professional or publication.
The deadline to apply to the fund is 4:30 p.m. on June 18. Funding decisions will be made by June 25. If funds are still available past the deadline, the fund will continue to accept applications.
'Start and stop'
Many operators already chose to stand down for this season, and they may have made that same choice regardless of this newly announced program, said Hartling.
To say tour operators are doing "crappy" is an understatement, he said.
"They're not doing well at all. It's just been a start and stop, start and stop situation for the last 14 months, [and] that's ground everybody down," he said.
Many have spent their "own last time" trying to get their businesses back up and running, and some face a loss of staff who found other employment.
He said there is "no playbook" for tourism and COVID-19 and that they're learning from other jurisdictions like New Brunswick.
Hartling says the plan is "making the best" of current data and opportunities during COVID-19.