Yukon tourism industry faces grim outlook because of COVID-19, report suggests

The paper, commissioned by the Yukon Bureau of Statistics suggests that, in the best-case scenario, tourism could decline by more than two-thirds this year.

Worst-case scenario shows tourism dropping 96 per cent this year, but B.C. visitors offer hope

The Carcross Commons is always a popular stopping place for tourists, especially those from Alaskan cruise ships. Tourism operators in Yukon face a bleak year due to the global slowdown in travel caused by COVID-19. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

A study commissioned by the Yukon Bureau of Statistics (YBS) finds that the COVID-19 pandemic could reduce the number of travellers coming into the territory this year by as much 96 per cent.

The report, authored by Statistics Canada economist Weimin Wang for YBS, also finds that total job losses caused by the drop in tourism, could range from 2,000 to 2,800. Those figures include both direct tourism job losses and spinoff jobs.

YBS director Bishnu Saha said the bureau commissioned the study because tourism appears to be hit harder than other sectors of the economy. 

"The impact on the tourism sector is the biggest," he said. "That was our assumption." Saha said the statistics bureau plans a broader business survey after the Yukon government enters Phase 2 of its reopening.

Even under the most optimistic scenario where international travel rebounds in July, tourism in the territory would still be down by 67 per cent, the paper suggests. That would translate to a drop of 4.2 per cent in the territory's business sector GDP.

Saha said the business sector GDP amounts to approximately half of the territory's economy.

Paper looks at 3 bleak scenarios

There are some important caveats to the paper's findings. The paper uses the actual measured decline in Yukon tourism — 25 per cent — recorded in the first three months of 2020.  After that, tourism activity is projected using three different scenarios, where international travel resumes in early July, early September and early December.

"It is noteworthy that these three scenarios are possible outcomes, not most likely outcomes," Wang cautions in the paper.

Blake Rogers has asked that we no longer use this photo. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

As grim as the study looks, Blake Rogers, executive director of the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon, said he's seen outlooks that were even worse.

Rogers said Yukon is especially hard hit because tourism makes up a bigger proportion of the economy than elsewhere in Canada: five per cent in Yukon compared to one per cent for Canada as a whole.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat it," he said. "It's going to be a heavy hit and and it's going to be felt across the board in all the numerous sectors of the industry."

B.C. visitors could help — a little

Saha said the paper also doesn't examine what will happen when the next phase of Yukon's reopening plan allows visitors from British Columbia, starting July 1.

Rogers said that traffic will help, but it may not fall evenly across all sectors of the tourism industry. Rogers said bars, restaurants and hotels stand to benefit more from B.C. visitors than do outfitters, who cater more to American and international visitors.

"I think that some people were just happy to be able to have some hope, you know a little bit of good news," Rogers said.

"It's not going to solve this situation for some people it will have a really minimal if any impact but at least it's something."


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