Frontier Lodge in Lutsel K’e has cut through a bureaucratic snag and is preparing to welcome guests for the summer.
The lodge recently acquired its long-sought liquor license, an issue that was part of regulatory struggles with the GNWT that lasted for more than one year, after the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) bought the lodge from its previous owners in December of 2019.
“We’re abosolutely thrilled,” said LKDFN tourism development officer Ray Griffith. “We’re (now) fully licensed to operate, including the bar.”
“(The license) was part of the business we bought, but we got caught in that because it was tagged to a business license from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, which also required approval from the fire marshal’s office.”
Wawzonek helps slash red tape
LKDFN and Frontier officials met with Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) Minister Caroline Wawzonek about two weeks ago to discuss the license.
They received an email from her on April 16 notifying that Frontier would receive the liquor license.
“She had the authority to override the requirements for a liquor license,” Griffith said.
“Wawzonek understood Frontier was being unfairly treated. We were alone among the lodges. (The GNWT) was holding one business hostage. That’s out of place for any government to do that. We’re thankful to Minister Wawzonek. She put in a great effort for us and made it happen.”
Wawzonek said she’s glad that the lodge ownership can look forward to a summer season.
“As both the Minister of Finance (which is responsible for liquor regulation in the territory) and the Minister of ITI, I was well placed to help find solutions that could benefit not only Frontier but this segment of the tourism industry as a whole,” she said.
“An amendment to the Liquor Regulations was recently registered that allows Ministerial discretion in the context of liquor licensing of remote lodges and it’s my hope that this amendment will help Frontier Lodge to take immediate steps to plan for this season. ITI and MACA continue to work together to support appropriate and clear licencing processes for remote facilities that support a safe environment for visitors.”.
Calm after the storm
The situation looked grim for the lodge at the start of March, when the LKDFN was informed it wouldn’t be granted an exemption for a MACA business license. That was the opposite of what Premier Caroline Cochrane had told Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn in a letter on Oct. 16, 2020.
And that came after the GNWT’s cancellation of the lodge’s occupancy permit in May of 2020.
The flip-flop “outraged” LKDFN, said Chief Daryl Marlowe in a statement on March 1. He feared the 2021 tourism season would be a write off for Lutsel K’e just as 2020 had been.
NWT Tourism board chairperson Harold Grinde said his organization was in complete agremeent with Marlowe, and urged that an exemption be made for the lodge while the GNWT resolves its own policy issues.
Griffith had feared that vague inspection regulations from the fire marshal’s office could lead to high upgrade costs for the cash-strapped lodge. That inspection was also tied to an occupancy permit and liquor license.
Preparing for summer season
With the bureaucratic headaches behind them, Griffith and Frontier general manager Corey Myers are focussing on the busy preparations to welcome guests for the summer.
“We’ve been working on this for well over a year and we were completely blocked,” Griffith said. “We finally got the support of someone who could put it through. We can concentrate on the promotions and on running a business.”
Renovations worth about $1 million are ongoing at the lodge and must wrap up before Frontier can begin welcoming guests in the first week of July. Griffith expects many guests will be those people who had already made bookings before the COVID-19 pandemic and whose reservations were deferred.
“Before they come we plan to have the whole community over for a feast at the lodge so they can see what they purchased and how the renovation project worked out,” Griffith said.
The first guests in July will be NWT residents, though Myers is hopeful they can have non-resident guests as well, following the GNWT’s announcement on April 21 that remote tourism operators can bring in clients from outside the NWT.
“We’re excited (about) this opportunity after such a long time of uncertainty,” Myers said. “But there’s a lot of work that has to happen between now and (the summer) to get ready. I don’t think I’ll be able to open to both residents and non-residents at the same time. Obviously we want to accommodate locals as well. I might be able to offer a shorter staycation season and then open to normal clients.”