Call them adventurers or gluttons for cold punishment, but either way these travellers seek to fulfill their winter mission desires through Yellowknife Vacations.
The travel company offers outings to see the aurora borealis and other winter activities like snowmobiling, dog sledding and ice fishing.
The tours include hotel accommodations and transportation, and even winter clothing rentals.
“We rent jackets and clothing for $30. Some companies go as high as $100 per day. We don’t focus on generating revenue. We focus on providing quality services for people who want to visit Yellowknife,” as company co-director Amit Tripathi told Yellowknifer.
Originally from northern India, Tripathi came to Yellowknife from Toronto in 2009. He worked at the Yellowknife airport for several years and gradually built up experience in the travel industry before he teamed up with Verda Law to launch Yellowknife Vacations in May of 2018.
Business has grown steadily since then, with the company averaging 500 tourists per month during its operating period of August to April.
“Numbers are consistent because we can’t accept more than 500 with our staff numbers and equipment usage and maintenance costs,” Tripathi said.
The main attraction for most Yellowknife Vacations customers is the aurora and that draws travellers from as far away as East Asia.
“Most are Mandarin speakers, second are Cantonese, third are English, fourth are Spanish speakers. We also have Japanese and Korean speakers,” Tripathi said.
The company pairs groups with guides who speak the respective languages.
Despite its steady run so far, the company faces some challenges, and the main one is competition from rental car tours.
“We see these Ford econoline buses with eight to 10 passengers. It’s hard to say if that’s a family or if it’s a tour. They’re not registered companies. Anybody can fly in and rent a car and conduct tours. It’s unsafe and unethical. They take away the business and they’re not even registered,” Tripathi explained. Even though these unofficial tours host the same number of tourists as Yellowknife Vacations, Tripathi said a lot of visitors want quality and don’t necessarily want to do everything on the cheap.
“(They) look for registered companies and they do background checks of companies.”
While the business has enjoyed a strong start in its first year and a half of existence, Tripathi said it’s not all about dollars and cents and the company focuses on giving back to the community.
In September the company launched its Aurora Flight trip and sponsored some students to join the airborne outings.
“The school board gave us a name and we put that kid on the flight and that kid came back very happy. It was his first time seeing aurora,” Tripathi said.
The company also sponsored some turkey dinners in December at a school in Behchoko.
For the foreseeable future Tripathi wants to extend the business while improving its services.
“We don’t want guests spending all of their money on aurora. There are so many aurora tours and our buses are full almost all the time. Our goal isn’t to make more revenue it’s to be affordable for tourists.”