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Easing of B.C. border restrictions won't float Yukon tourism industry, says advocate

Neil Hartling, chair of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, says business from B.C. visitors and from Yukoners travelling within the territory, accounts for a fraction of the overall market.

Chair of Tourism Industry Association says B.C. visitors account for just a fraction of tourists

Roxanne Mason, general manager of Mount Logan Lodge, pictured here, says her team is working out what they can do to attract more visitors from Yukon. (Submitted by Roxanne Mason)

The easing of travel restrictions with B.C. is unlikely to float Yukon's tourism industry, and as much as half of the territory's tourism operators may stay dormant this summer, says an industry advocate.

"It's going to be a challenging season, there's no question about it," said Neil Hartling, chair of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon. He said there's a good chance some tourism operators won't make it to summer 2021.

Travel into the territory was significantly restricted in mid-April to slow the spread of COVID-19, spelling disaster for Yukon's tourism industry. On July 1 however, the territorial government hopes to lift the 14-day self-isolation requirement for travellers crossing into Yukon from B.C.

But Hartling said business from B.C. visitors, and from Yukoners travelling within the territory, accounts for a fraction of the overall market. The majority of visitors typically arrive from other parts of Canada, the United States and overseas. 

"It's a very small market compared to the half a million people that we typically have here in the summer," he said.

Tourism and Culture Minister Jeanie Dendys said the territorial government is talking to communities about their comfort level when it comes to outside visitors. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

According to a pre-COVID-19 visitor exit survey from 2017-18, 78 per cent of visitors travelled to Yukon in the summer months (June to September). 

While people from B.C. accounted for 40 per cent of Canadian visitors to the territory, Canadians overall made up just 28 per cent of all the territory's tourists.

Territory working on tourism recovery program

On Wednesday, the tourism association hosted a video conference with Yukon Tourism and Culture Minister Jeanie Dendys. Nearly 100 people joined the call, said Hartling. 

They talked about the possibility of more federal financial aid and about what the travel bubble with B.C. will look like. 

The territorial government is talking to communities about their comfort level when it comes to outside visitors, Dendys told CBC News. She also acknowledged that it will take a while for people to feel safe enough — physically and financially — to travel again. 

Dendys said she couldn't give projections for the overall economic toll of COVID-19 on the tourism industry, in terms of job and revenue losses.

My season is not looking great, to be honest.-  Roxanne Mason, Mount Logan Lodge general manager

"We know that this is the business sector that was hit first and will be hit for the longest," she said. "It's going to take the longest time to recover." 

Dendys said the government is building a tourism recovery program that will be folded into its larger economic recovery plan.

Under the territorial government's business relief program, eligible Yukon businesses that have seen a drop in revenue of at least 30 per cent due to COVID-19 can get up to $30,000 a month to cover fixed costs. The government also increased its funding for tourism marketing from $1 million to $1.7 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Hartling said the Yukon government's economic relief efforts have been "very good" thus far. 

Focus shifting to attracting Yukoners

Mount Logan Lodge near Kluane National Park normally attracts guests guests from Germany, France, Switzerland, Australia, Ontario and B.C.

Roxanne Mason the lodge's general manager, holds out hope that this summer's B.C. bookings won't cancel. 

Business partners and married couple Roxanne and David Mason run Mount Logan Lodge and Yukon Guided Adventures. (Submitted by Roxanne Mason)

"My season is not looking great, to be honest," she said.

She, too, is grateful for government assistance. It's keeping the lodge afloat. But, she added, if the pandemic persists for a long time without a vaccine or treatment, they may go under. 

For now, said Mason, they're looking at ways to attract more guests from Yukon.

"We're not a regular hotel, and we're not a restaurant, and we're not a bar, so what could we do that Yukoners would love to come and see us? So that's what we're trying to think [of]," she said.

"Hopefully things will get better for us and for everyone else and Yukoners will want to travel in their own territory and come and see us."

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