The Explorer Hotel is one step closer to casting a much larger shadow this summer with the expansion of 72 suites in a seven-story addition, a second storey added above the banquet hall.

Development permits for the expansion were approved May 26 by the city. Pending building permits, construction will begin within the next two months, according to Nunastar Properties Inc. president Ed Romanowski. “We are working with a number of local trades and suppliers,” he said.

The general contractor for the multi-million dollar expansion is Yellowknife-based Clark Builders.

When complete, the hotel will have a total of 259 rooms as well as expanded banquet and conference facilities.

“This would just make it a bigger space and provide for more flexibility in terms of how we can break that out for groups, and provide more breakout rooms,” said Romanowski.

Yellowknife Hotel Association statistics show occupancy rates in the city’s hotels peaked in September 2016 at nearly 85 per cent. Between January and September 2016, occupancy rates weren’t lower than 47 per cent: which means there’s no room at the inn if more than one large conference wants to come to town.

The Chateau Nova, which opened in September, added 141 rooms to the market, as well as additional conference space but Romanowski is confident there is still a gap the Explorer can wedge itself in.

“We’re really responding to the demands of our customers both government business and especially the increasing number of tours that are coming in to Yellowknife,” he said. “We’re just fulfilling a need.”

Cathie Bolstad, executive director of NWT Tourism, says the expansion is a positive sign that the tourism industry in the territory is continuing to grow.

“Anytime there is new product on the market, and especially new product that increases the capacity of the territory to host, is a good thing,” she said, adding that with 59 licensed tour operators in the North Slave region alone, there are more activities drawing tourists to the area.

Once underway, Romanowski estimates the project would take between 12 and 14 months to complete.

“It’s very exciting,” said Mayor Mark Heyck. “We’ve seen remarkable growth in our tourism numbers the last several years. It’s taken a little while I think for the accommodations industry to kind of catch up with the demand that’s actually out there.”

He added he also hopes it’s good news for his ongoing campaign to secure an accommodation tax on hotel rooms to help fund tourism initiatives.

“We are hopeful and will continue to apply pressure to make sure those legislative amendments are moving forward,” said Heyck. “To see the tourism infrastructure such as it is booming as it is, is really positive for the local economy.”