Staff at the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre expect the news of a missing Japanese tourist will have an impact on future tourism from Japan.
Atsumi Yoshikubo, 45, was last seen in Yellowknife 12 days ago. A ground search began soon after she was reported missing by staff at her hotel on Monday.
RCMP have since halted that search, saying they’re focussing on an area north of Yellowknife, using infrared equipment that can detect human beings, as well as police dogs. The police said no foul play is suspected.
Japanese news crews in Yellowknife to cover the search say viewers in Japan are very concerned about Yoshikubo, and staff at the visitors centre say that concern will likely result in fewer trips to see the Aurora.
“We won`t see an impact possibly until the new Aurora season starts up,” says Tracy Therrien, who manages the centre. But, she says, there will be an impact, “because this will frighten the Japanese culture that a person has gone missing.”
Yoshikubo, a doctor, was travelling alone on a trip arranged through a Toronto tour operator. She arrived in the off season, when the northern lights are less visible and dog sledding is not yet possible.
Therrien says it’s extremely rare for a Japanese tourist to travel alone. She says that of 15,000 Japanese tourists who visited Yellowknife this past season, 95 per cent came with a tour; the remaining five percent come with friends.
However, Yoshikubo’s father told Japanese broadcaster NHK that his daughter often traveled alone.
And the N.W.T. government says there are two primary groups of travellers: young women in their late 20s to early 30s, travelling in pairs or alone, and elderly or retired married couples.
October, November the worst times to visit
Staff at the visitors centre say October and November are the worst times to visit the city.
Therrien says the outdoor conditions are treacherous and the Northern Lights are difficult to see.
“Our trails become very icy and swampy and dangerous,” Therrien says. “With the snowfall, there's no differentiation between land and water. And with so much water in Yellowknife, it becomes very dangerous.”
Yoshikubo visited the centre at least twice before she disappeared.
Therrien says none of the staff remembers speaking with her, but if they had, they would have cautioned her against hiking at this time of year.
Therrien says they only would have recommended a safe trail, like the Frame Lake Trail.