The business fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic left Andrew Moore with no choice but to cast north, a bid that helped Yellowknife Sportfishing Adventures hook a stronger-than-expected summer.
Since Moore launched the company in 2017, he has come to rely on anglers from outside the territory for half of his business, which revolves around fishing trips on the lakes near Yellowknife and on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake.
This year opened relatively well, with the ice fishing season “ramping up” in the winter until the growing global pandemic gradually closed off tourism.
“We kept getting more and more cancellations,” Moore said. “And then by March, when it’s really our busiest time, the business shut down.”
He estimates he lost 50 bookings for the winter and summer seasons. Half of the February reservations were cancelled, and all of the March and April bookings were cancelled, amounting to $15,000 to $20,000 in lost revenue.
If the lockdown on businesses and the restrictions continued from the spring into the summer, Moore faced the dismal possibility of $50,000 to $75,000 in lost earnings.
But circumstances changed. Moore accessed some Covid financial assistance from the Northern Business Relief Fund, and in the early summer the government informed him he could reopen.
Once Moore advertised that his venture could offer staycation trips “our emails (and phone calls) exploded. People were hopping on the chance to take advantage of those openings that we had because of outside residents’ cancellations.”
“And a lot of out-of-towners are booking a year, year and a half, two years in advance. A lot of spots get booked up right away. So unfortunately, the people that live up here, there’s only so many spots available. When I had those cancellations, it was crappy for those other people (but) it was good for all the people in town. And now I had all these spots available, and people were able to go fishing, do something cool, adventurous out on the East Arm of the big lake.”
By the numbers, Moore and his guides took out 40 more people in 10 new trips between July and August, amounting to an increase of 10 per cent in activity compared to the summer of 2019. In September, he added four new trips. He was even able to hire an extra guide for a total of four fishing guides.
The summer also helped the business grow its online engagement by about 25 per cent.
“With people looking for things to do, they went to the internet, they went to Facebook, they went to Instagram,” he said. “The more people see your posts and see pictures of people holding big fish and smiling… that’s increased our followers on Facebook and Instagram, and our website traffic. That’s a big deal. It helps with the marketing down the road.”
Despite his encouraging summer, Moore admits to feeling somewhat uncomfortable to be openly discussing his success while other NWT businesses have struggled in the pandemic.
“I know there’s a lot of businesses and people that are not in the same situation I am. But everybody’s going to get through all this in the near future, hopefully. Times might be tough but try and stick it out. I really think that once we turn that corner with being able to open the borders again, whenever that may be, it’s going to be busy up here. So I’m looking forward to that.”
Amid a very difficult year for the NWT, the silver lining of giving residents great fishing experiences has been “super satisfying” for Moore.
“This summer’s been… NWT, this is all yours, come and get it, and we’ll take you out and show you a good time. It’s been very satisfying to be able to give people in the NWT who have been basically locked down and not really able to go anywhere, something fun, something adventurous, it’s something that they’re gonna remember for the rest of their lives.”