Inuvik was crawling with tourists this season.
The parking lot at the Western Arctic Regional Visitors Centre was often packed with RVs, truck campers and the odd beater that huffed its way up the Dempster Highway.
I met so many people from across Canada, and around the world, too, all over town – from sharing tables with people at Alestine’s to being asked where the nearest gas station is located while walking down the street.
It wasn’t unusual to see a hitchhiker or two trying to make their way up the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway (ITH), either.
With the town’s 60th anniversary, the Great Northern Arts Festival and the new link to the Arctic Ocean, the ITH, Inuvik seemed to be an attractive spot for all kinds of travellers.
So it was no surprise when Don Craik from ITI told me that the number of tourists had increased approximately 34 per cent since last year.
That’s nearly 2,000 more people who came through town with money to be spent. But did they spend much of it here?
Let’s be honest, getting to Inuvik is not cheap. If you’re coming from Yellowknife, a round-trip plane ticket will run you between $600 and $800, and a ticket to another major city like Toronto or Vancouver will run you another $1,000.
Gas isn’t cheap either, if you’re driving up the Dempster, and accommodations, food and other necessities will cost you considerably more here than in the south.
So, I can totally understand why the average vacationer might be penny pinching and not wanting to drop a few hundred dollars on a tour.
I see Kylik Kisoun Taylor’s point about how we should be marketing the cultural experiences Inuvik has to offer to higher-end crowds, not just the journey of driving the ITH and dipping your toe in the ocean, which contributes relatively little to the local economy.
That being said, not everyone can afford a higher-end experience, but I think everyone should be able to experience what the North has to offer if they want to.
Kisoun Taylor’s idea to market Inuvik to a higher-end crowd to get people doing more than just dipping their toe in the Arctic Ocean and leaving is absolutely necessary, but I think there should also be space made for those who land in between the big spenders and the penny pinchers.
What about a $50 cooking class where people could learn how to make bannock, dry fish, muktuk or other local foods, or a $100 sewing class where visitors could learn how to make a brooch?
These kinds of mid-range options could bring a little more money into the local economy while also providing a cultural experience for visitors.