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Tourism operators in Yellowknife welcome a move by the territorial government to waive licensing fees, giving them a little relief as the Covid-19 downturn has devastated their businesses.

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) announced June 3 that licensed tourism operators in the NWT would not have to pay to renew their tourism operator Llcences (TOL). A total of $29,225 will be returned to operators who have already paid their 2020-21 TOL fees, ITI said.

The government will also grant temporary waivers on insurance requirements under the Tourism Act if operators can’t conduct tourism activities.

Dan Wong, owner of Jackpine Paddle, said the fee waiver is a helping hand for small tourism operators in the NWT.
Blair McBride/NNSL photo

“I think it’s great. I think they need to waive it for future years too, and all fees because it’s going to take a while for people to get back into operation,” said Margaret Peterson, owner of My Backyard Tours, which offers a range of year-round outings for tourists.

While the fee waiver alone won’t allow Peterson to go back to business as usual, it will help her keep her paperwork up to date.

“Every year we have to apply for a tourism operators licence and (the waiver) will keep us licensed even though we can’t operate right now,” she said. “We’ve been doing this for 35 years — there are so many fees that we pay and it’s nice to have some waived.”

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Dan Wong, owner of the Jackpine Paddle canoe and kayak adventure tours company, is grateful for the waiver even though it won’t bring back tourists from outside the NWT this summer. The lack of back country adventure tourists represents an 85 per cent reduction in bookings for his company.

“The border being shut will have a 1,000 times larger impact than any fee moratorium could. The fact that our clients can’t get here, that has the single biggest impact on our business,” he said.

At the same time, paddling courses and kids camps for NWT residents have increased by about 25 per cent, although those comprise a smaller slice of Wong’s business pie.

RELATED REPORTING: Tourism operators pin hopes on territorial travellers as closed border reduces client base

Wong agrees with Peterson that the waiver is a chance to consider permanently dropping some of the fee requirements that tourism operators face.

He remembers when his company started out five years ago the hundreds of dollars here and there for the territorial and business licences added up and were discouraging for him.

“For us right now it’s not a major expense but for businesses that are just getting going, and if their revenue is small those fees can be a real disincentive.”

But he said ITI’s waivers are still helpful for all operators and especially for “the smallest of the small businesses.”

“This is important because in the tourism industry there is an emerging cohort of northern-owned tourism businesses trying to get off the ground, in an industry dominated by southern operators. And the northern players are small and new. It’s a very welcome gesture. It’s beyond the dollars and cents. I think it signals that the government has our back and understands what we’re dealing with,” he said.

For Cathie Bolstad, chief executive officer of NWT Tourism, the fee relief measures are good news.

“Any initiative that reduces the fixed operating costs for tourism operators during the time when they cannot open is a good thing. We commend (ITI) minister (Katrina) Nokleby for her support for the tourism industry in the NWT,” said Bolstad.

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