Tourism operators and lodge owners in the Northwest Territories are bracing for a tough summer ahead with great uncertainty.
Bryan Chorostkowski, owner of Namushka Lodge on Harding Lake, about 60 km east of the city, was finally looking forward to a grand opening of his rebuilt lodge on July 17 after hosting a soft start last year with longtime guests and friends. About 14 groups checked out his refurbished and winterized site, which had been badly burned by fire in 2016.
“This year I was really looking forward to having a grand opening and really pushing and promoting the place,” he said. “So that has obviously changed and Covid-19 has put a bit of a damper on it. I’m hopeful that some of these restrictions will ease up, but, at this point, I guess I’m hoping that locally I can open up to local groups.”
Chorostkowski and his family have owned the lodge since 1982. He has depended on groups from Alberta and British Columbia to rent the building. Typically, guests arrive during the first weekend of June, and the season wraps up by the end of September.
The benefits of having people from out of territory, he noted, is that they tend to make their travel worthwhile. Local people staying at the lodge usually do so in shorter stints, he added.
Chorostkowski said he continues to monitor how the pandemic will impact his business.
“Right now (the grand opening) is obviously on hold and we might be pushing that back or planning for it a
little later into the season,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll happen this year. If not, we’ll wait until next year, or whenever.”
Dan Wong, owner of Jack Pine Paddle, had been planning to go into his fifth summer. Jack Pine was coming off a strong season last year after taking over long time canoe guide Alex Hall’s operations and growing threefold in gross revenue.
Wong foresees “a lost summer” when it comes to providing guided expeditions, the company’s main selling point.
He said if the NWT keeps the tight restrictions with the 14-day self-isolation order throughout the summer, that effectively continues what he calls a ‘Fortress NWT’ and kills the prospects of running his business. Visitors coming to take a paddling expedition won’t be willing to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival, he said.
“We were supposed to be doing guided operations starting in June. I’ve basically cancelled almost everything through July,” said Wong. “We’ve been refunding deposits and (they’ve) been staggering losses — stunning losses.”
Wong said it’s not clear if he can operate. He pointed out that tourism operators are coded red by the chief public health officer and their companies aren’t allowed to function.
Because the border is closed, the bulk of his clientele are excluded automatically, but he doesn’t understand why he can’t operate locally.
“So any tour operations that could happen would be local,” he said. “So can local tour operations happen if they follow the social distancing rules and the current rules of the day, which right now is under 10 people? If not, then why not? I just don’t know why tour operators would continue to be in the red category.”
He also said the company offers kids camps and paddling courses that don’t require a tourism operator’s licence.
“I think there’s some clarification that needs to be made in a hurry because the summer season is coming up super quick,” he said.
Mayor Rebecca Alty said summer tourism is expected to take a hit, including planned activities by the City of Yellowknife.
“Tourism will definitely be impacted for the summer,” she said, “and the winter I imagine, too.
“I think it’ll be interesting for residents to see what’s coming out but we generally have big Canada Day events. Those no mass gatherings (orders) will change our summer.”