'We are in limbo right now': Inuvik tour operators, restaurateurs struggling with businesses

As Canada and the world take stringent precautions against COVID-19, tour operators and restaurateurs in the N.W.T.'s Beaufort Delta region are already feeling the effects.

'A business like mine that takes ... 15 years to get to where it is, something like this can shut it down'

Brian and Pam McDonald are co-owners of Alestine's in Inuvik, N.W.T. They say their business risks getting temporarily shut down because of COVID-19. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

As Canada and countries around the world take stringent precautions against COVID-19, tour operators in the Northwest Territories's Beaufort Delta region are already feeling the effects.

Kylik Kisoun Taylor, who runs Tundra North Tours in Inuvik, just had a Finnish film crew end its tour a week early as countries began closing borders and urging travellers to return home. 

He said March and the beginning of April is his busiest winter season. But he worries he may not run another tour for a while.

"It's when we do the biggest bulk of our [tours], and everything has been cancelled except for maybe one tour that is domestic."

Since the opening of the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway in 2017, tourism has been on the rise in the Beaufort Delta region.

Kylik Kisoun Taylor runs Tundra North Tours. He estimates he'll lose 30 to 50 per cent of his revenue for the year. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Kisoun Taylor said he started seeing cancellations two weeks ago. He expects his company, which he's run for the last 15 years, will lose hundreds of thousand of dollars.

"It's going to be pretty tough to get by," he said. "I've been on the phone with some government officials, departments, to see what is going to be available for help for small businesses to survive this."

Kisoun Taylor estimates he'll lose 30 to 50 per cent of his revenue for the year, or worse.

We are in limbo right now. It is our livelihood.- Brian McDonald, Co-owner of Alestine's

He said if this situation expands across the summer, the company is looking at a revenue loss of 80 per cent.

"A business like mine that takes, you know, 15 years to get to where it is, something like this can shut it down."

The last time he experienced something like this was in 2008 during the recession. But Kisoun Taylor said his company was operating on a smaller scale then, "so it was harder to see the effects."

Restaurants struggling with limited takeout

The service industry in Inuvik is also being impacted.

Twisted Concession, which runs out of the town-owned Midnight Sun Complex, was forced to close this week as the building is closed to the public until further notice.

Inuvik is one of several communities in the N.W.T. that has closed town-owned facilities after the territorial government urged residents to avoid large groups and practice social distancing.

The Roost Restaurant in Inuvik has also closed its dining area, but will continue to do takeout and delivery orders.

Pam and Brian McDonald, who own the restaurant Alestine's, began doing takeout only on Monday. 

"[We're] trying to take some type of proactive approach to it since we are such a tiny space," Brian said.

But he said orders are way down. They normally get about 35 orders on a Monday, but they got just 11 the first day they offered takeout only.

"We are in limbo right now. It is our livelihood. We were substituting at the schools and the schools are closed down." 

Inuvik restaurant Alestine's began offering takeout only on Monday. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

But the couple said right now, they're focused on keeping busy and keeping residents safe.

They are giving people their food outside the restaurant while wearing rubber gloves and accepting payment by cash or e-transfer. 

Brian said if someone tests positive for COVID-19 in the N.W.T., they will most likely shut down until further notice. As of Wednesday, there were no confirmed cases in the territory.

"I don't think people are going to be spending as much money to eat out ... They are going to want to stay at home with their families," Pam said.