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Tips for tourism: NWT Tourism CEO talks business

Cathie Bolstad, CEO of NWT Tourism, shared some numbers on tourism and tips on how to get tourists to open their wallet at a Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce Conference on Oct. 23 Brett McGarry / NNSL photo

There is no doubt that tourism has a growing part to play in Yellowknife's economy.

Cathie Bolstad, CEO of NWT Tourism industry spoke to the room of about three dozen Chamber members, highlighting the importance of the growing industry and what businesses can do to capture that at the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce held their annual conference on Wednesday.

Cathie Bolstad, CEO of NWT Tourism, shared some numbers on tourism and tips on how to get tourists to open their wallet at a Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce Conference on Oct. 23.
Brett McGarry / NNSL photo

NWT Tourism is the destination marketing organization with a contract with the GNWT's Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, but is not a direct arm of the government, unlike many provinces.

Bolstad pointed out that the numbers are showing an increase, but the spending per visitor is slightly decreasing.

Although the latest statistics on tourism could not be shared at the time of the presentation, Bolstad could share "with a big smile" that trends are indicating another year of increased tourism.

In 2017/2018 there were 112,530 visitors which was a stable increase from 108,480 in the previous tracking period.

"Indicators for 2019 show that visitor intake is continuing to grow," said Bolstad.

"Yellowknife is lucky in that there is winter tourism and summer visitation for family and friends and Yellowknife is the gateway for many of those trips."

Spending is also tracking upwards, but the amount being spent per tourists is slightly declining.

On average there was $1,807.51 being spent per tourist in 2017/2018, which is down $48.49 from the previous cycle.

Competition is also up with Bolstad mentioning that licensed tourism operators drastically increasing the North Slave Region since 2010.

When she asked members of the audience as to why they thought this might be, she got the answer she was looking for: there aren't enough places for people to spend.

She recalled a personal story of taking a vacation to Tuktoyaktuk and anticipated buying some local arts and crafts, only to find that the one gift shop in town only took cash and had items that far exceeded the cash she had with her.

"There wasn't a lot I could buy there," said Bolstad.

"As we think about tourism and the tourism industry, visitors come and they come with their wallet ready to look for unique experiences to spend on."

According to Bolstad, they're looking to do that on their phone where 70 per cent of travel bookings are made.

Bolstad said her organization is already working hard to make spending money in Yellowknife and the NWT more attractive to tourists, including the introduction of Chinese pay systems such as Alipay, used predominantly with phones.

The introduction of the new pay system got off to a quick start and garnered more than $40,000 in transactions during the two peak tourism months.

Alipay is already being used by at least a half dozen vendors in Yellowknife.

Sharing a few tips smaller tips on how to cash in on tourism dollars, Bolstad says we ultimately want tourists to come spend, then come back. She said businesses are on the front line of promoting the territory and should share "the thrill of first discovery with them."

Things like helping lost tourists on the street feel more welcome can also go a long way in making sure they return to Yellowknife again.

NWT Tourism will have their annual general meeting, at which more statistics on the performance of the territories tourism sector will be revealed, Nov. 5 at the Explorer Hotel.