Yukon wants to expand growing Japanese tourism market

The number of Japanese tourists visiting Yukon has gone up tenfold in the last few years, but the incredible northern lights cycle that's attracting them is starting to wane.

Japan is now Yukon's fourth largest overseas market, behind German-speaking Europe, U.K., Australia

Japanese tourists in Whitehorse. The Yukon government wants to expand the Japanese tourism market, which has grown tenfold in the past few years, largely due to an incredible Northern Lights cycle that's starting to wane. (CBC)

The Yukon government is hoping to build on rising numbers of Japanese visitors to the territory.

One of the biggest success stories for Yukon tourism is the increase in the Japanese market over the past few years.

In 2009 the Yukon had a little more than 300 visitors from Japan. It's since grown to about 3,000.

Tourist guide Toshie Cartier says it's because of Japan's enduring fascination with the northern lights. 

"When I first moved to Yukon six years ago I hardly saw any Japanese tourists, but three years ago after I started working for this company I started to see so many Japanese starting to come to the Yukon to see the northern lights," Cartier says.

Japan has become the territory's fourth largest overseas market.

Pierre Germain, Yukon's director of tourism, agrees it's related to the quality of the northern lights.

"We had an opportunity with some increased air access to see all the stars align plus we had a great aurora cycle that really began in 2011 and 2012," Germain says.

Yukon Tourism director Pierre Germain. (CBC)

The Yukon government is working to attract more visitors from overseas. Over the past four years the territory received $2 million from the federal government to do that.

Tourism officials say it made a difference: the number of visitors from overseas has grown by 33%.

The federal marketing money has now run out, but the territory plans to use its own funds to keep the effort going.

"We're going to continue to use the money to be in our primary overseas market of German-speaking Europe. We're also going to invest the money in our secondary market which is the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan," Germain says.

Visitors from overseas are a fraction of Yukon tourists, but they tend to spend more money when they're here. 

The northern lights cycle — the biggest draw for Japanese tourists — is starting to wane.

However, there are two new daily flights between Japan and Canada this spring and the government hopes more marketing and more access will bring more travelers.