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EDITORIAL: A high visibility visitors centre a must

The Northern Frontiers Visitors Centre sits empty, decades after it first opened in 1992. Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo

Let’s be realistic, if the territorial government were to invest in repairing or rebuilding the visitors centre, would you be behind investing your somewhat limited resources in a refurbished or even a shiny new visitor centre?

According to Minister of Infrastructure, Industry and Tourism Wally Schumann, that might be the last thing on the department’s to-do list.

He said saving the building isn’t “looking very well,” explaining repairs could be too expensive to be viable.

So, where does that leave the NWT and its tourism hub in Yellowknife?

Regardless of cost, the capital city of the NWT needs a tourist hub – somewhere for those big motorhomes full of visiting families and the buses full of tourists to pull up and find out about all the amazing things Yellowknife has to offer.

Does the cost of saving the current building outweigh the recurring revenue from tourists who use that information hub, spend dollars on local arts and crafts and finding places in the city to spend their dollars eating, drinking, buying local and enjoying what our Northern businesses have to offer?

The lack of a proper facility leaves them out in the sub-arctic cold, with nothing on offer other than an awkward counter in the basement of city hall that isn’t the easiest place to locate for those visiting our great city for the first time. Even worse for returning visitors, they’re coming back to find a familiar building closed for business.

The GNWT can’t just take something away and offload it onto the community, otherwise what do we have the department of tourism for?

If we want to encourage tourism, we can’t have our government dumping the responsibility onto the shoulders of local communities just for the sake of saving money – that’s what economists like to call a false economy.

That visitor centre should be renovated and re-opened.

And the GNWT should foot the bill whether that is for shoring up the building and making it usable again or completely tearing down the building and starting from scratch.
The question is, will you as taxpayers push to ensure that one of our last economies in the territory that remains vigorous and healthy, is supported by having a viable visitors centre in Yellowknife, or will you sit idly by while visitors to this city spread the word that we aren’t easily accessible to tourists?

Destination development association Roger Brooks International states that “eight out of ten destination marketing organizations have an official info centre and that these centres can “evoke civic pride when locals provide top-notch hospitality and valuable services to travellers.”

Yellowknife is not evoking pride or hospitality to visitors with its current resources. The city needs to provide visitors with positive experiences; a visible visitor centre with ample parking, knowledgeable people and high visibility is a guaranteed recipe to make that happen.

There shouldn’t be any question about what the government is doing to make that happen, simply a decision to make it happen so the city doesn’t go another year with an invisible tourism centre down the street from a boarded up building that can only be interpreted by tourists as saying to them, “we don’t care about you.”