The newly-completed Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway is expected to draw five to 10 times the average number of visitors to the region, according to Annie Steen, the economic development officer for the Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk.
Steen said Tuktoyaktuk is expecting 5,000 to 10,000 tourists to visit this year, based on calls received by the hamlet and the GNWT. This number is up from the average 1,200 tourists the hamlet receives each year.
She said this level of tourism in Tuktoyaktuk is unprecedented because the cost of flying to Tuktoyaktuk in the summer used to be a barrier for visitors.
“It’s exciting and alarming,” she said. “But right now, it’s our only means of any kind of economic gain since there are no jobs with the highway completion, as well as the moratorium that the federal government put on offshore drilling and exploration. There’s no economy here, so now, for us, to be able to grab any kind of new outside money is really important to us.”
The hamlet is gearing up to deal with the challenges of hosting so many visitors, such as a lack of parking spots, laundry facilities and showers. While addressing these challenges, she said it is also important to the hamlet to ensure that it creates a sustainable tourism industry for years to come.
“We want to make sure that it’s going to support itself so that we can reinvest all of the revenues that we get from tourists so we can continue to enhance and improve our services to them,” she said.
Jackie Challis, director of tourism and economic development for the Town of Inuvik, agreed that a sustainable approach to tourism development is necessary.
“For it to be sustainable, we need to make sure that when people go to our stores, when they stay at our hotels, when they are at our campgrounds, they’re being serviced well, and all the pieces have to fall in place,” Challis said.
She said Inuvik’s challenge with the influx of tourists will be to increase the quality and number of experiences in town for tourists.
“I think sometimes destinations focus on getting more visitors, but right now, I think that we’re going to receive more visitors, but we also need to work on the experience that they’re going to have when they get here,” said Challis. “We need to make sure they’re getting the most they can get while they’re here, and that’s what we’re trying to do … we want to give them a real, authentic experience of what it’s like to be in the North.”
She added that an increase in tourism will bring benefits to the town beyond economic gain.
“Tourism allows us the ability to tell our own story from our own perspective … whether that’s your own story about being out on the land, or your own story of being a traditional artist. Tourism is our chance to have pride in our community,” she said. “The social and emotional impact that this has on our community could be just as powerful as the outside dollar that tourism brings.”