Deline attracts Chinese tourists after tourism agreement fizzles

The manager of Grey Goose Lodge is working on an itinerary for a group of five tourists who happen to be — as far as he knows — the first to visit the community from China.

Nobody able to explain what happened with partnership between Deline Got’ine gov’t and Beijing Best Tours

The Grey Goose Lodge in Deline is getting ready to hosts Chinese tourists for the first time, according to the acting manager. (Submitted by Arsenne Betsidea)

Deline is gearing up to host a group of Chinese tourists later this month, a year after the community government announced a partnership with Beijing Best Tour Company. 

But this group didn't book their tour through Beijing Best. They contacted the community's only hotel, Grey Goose Lodge, directly.

That's because the partnership never got off the ground, and nobody really seems to know what happened. When asked, Grey Goose Lodge acting manager Arsenne Betsidea said the Deline Got'ine Government would know details. 

Jimmy Tutcho, the acting business manager for the government's business arm, Techi?q Ltd., referred CBC News back to Betsidea. 

Techi?q Ltd.'s former CEO, Bob Gill, announced the agreement in March 2018. At the time, he said it would bring an estimated 24 Chinese tourists to the community on a weekly basis for the duration of the aurora season.

Gill did not respond to a request for comment about the fate of the agreement.

At the time, Grey Goose Lodge was wrapping up an expansion that added eight cabins to the property. The cabins were jointly funded between CanNor, which provided $500,000, and Techi?q, which provided $478,000. 

Those cabins aren't sitting empty in the absence of the expected tourism influx, says Betsidea.

"I'm using half of them as of now," he said.

He said some people prefer the peace and quiet of staying in a cabin, or just want to unplug from technology for a bit. 

Gearing up for Chinese tourists

When reached for an interview on Thursday, Betsidea said he was working on an itinerary for a group of five tourists who happen to be — as far as he knows — the first to visit the community from China.

He said they are a group from an offshore oil rig who contacted him because they "just want to get away from everything." 

"This will be our first little challenge," said Betsidea. "So if we do good on this one, hopefully we'll get good reviews."

Betsidea said the tourists are interested in bird watching and some wildlife tracking activities. Grey Goose Lodge doesn't have any official interpretation service for them, but he has been learning a bit of Mandarin on his Duolingo language app to help bridge the divide.

This will be our first little challenge.- Grey Goose Lodge acting manager Arsenne Betsidea

Plus, he says, there is one person in the group who knows some English.

The Chinese tourists plan to stay for eight days.

Betsidea has only been acting manager of Grey Goose Lodge since April, but he's lived in Deline for years, working in various capacities. He was the one to do the community's first "big" tour package, when a group of about 30 millionaires visited the community a couple years ago. 

He described the group as mostly people from Ducks Unlimited, and one notable visitor — Laurene Powell Jobs — the widow of Steve Jobs. 

"They charted their own plane here and all we had to do is give them a tour of the whole town for … four nights," said Betsidea. 

"That was pretty exciting. That was a first for the community." 

No numbers for community tourism.

The tourism sector of the Northwest Territories economy has been booming over the past five years. The 2017/18 fiscal year broke records, with 110,000 visitors travelling to the territory. That translated into about $203 million in spending. 

According to Drew Williams, spokesperson for the Department of Tourism, Industry and Investment, the N.W.T. government doesn't track tourism numbers by community.

But Yellowknife is definitely the main destination for tourists. According to the City of Yellowknife, 70,000 tourists visited the capital city in 2016, and spent more than $90 million.