North

Hay River council approves tourism plan, aims to become 'essential' N.W.T. destination

The town of Hay River has embraced a new three-year tourism plan that they hope will make the town an “essential” N.W.T. destination.

The report includes over 60 initiatives to be completed by 2023

Town council in Hay River approved a three-year tourism plan on Monday evening. (Emily Blake/CBC)

Town councillors in Hay River have passed a new three-year tourism plan that they hope will make the town an "essential" N.W.T. destination.

A report, written by the town's tourism and economic development committee, sets out over 60 initiatives that the town should complete by the end of council's term in 2023. It identifies the environment for tourism in town and points out what opportunities could improve people's trips to Hay River.

The initiatives will work together to meet the town's ultimate goal: making Hay River a tourism hub in the territory for those driving through town either on their way to Yellowknife or other northern destinations. 

We know Hay River is the hub of the North from a transportation perspective, but [also] very much so for tourism.- Glenn Smith, assistant senior administrative officer 

The initiatives in the report include beautifying the downtown, installing signs along the town's trail systems and partnering with the nearby K'atl'odeeche and West Point First Nations to create unique cultural tours that celebrate the region's history. 

Hay River's last robust tourism report was completed in 2012. The tourism strategy in front of council last night takes some of the same goals and updates them, said Assistant Senior Administrative Officer Glenn Smith continued.

The report does not include a budget. That will be presented to council later this month in the town's marketing report, which Smith said will identify the best demographics and tactics that the town could use to attract visitors. 

Hay River wants to 'capture' N.W.T. tourism boom

The territory has seen a boost in both visitors and their spending in the last five years, according to the department of Industry, Tourism and Investment. Last year's numbers show over 120,000 tourists spent roughly $210 million, up from 84,810 visitors spending $146 million in 2014. 

Smith said he hopes Hay River will be able to benefit from that tourism spike. 

There's a piece of that [tourism] pie that we can better capture.- Glenn Smith, assistant senior administrative officer

"The thought for Hay River is well, we see a lot of that going to Yellowknife, it's certainly a good sign that more and more people are coming to the territory," Smith said. "There's a piece of that pie that we can better capture."

Peter Magill, the town's tourism and economic development coordinator, said the town has been making good progress in the tourism industry over the last couple of years with its visitor's centre and the creation of a new tour package. Plus, NWT Tourism's Annual General Meeting in November is taking place in Hay River — which Magill said will be a good time to "showcase" the town to others in the territory. 

"There are many things coming to a head here, and if we maintain our conversations with the community ... I think we will see some [tourist] spillover from Yellowknife," Magill said. 

Infrastructure first priority 

The report gives council many recommendations on how to improve tourism infrastructure in town. Chief among them is adding short-term mooring space at Porritt's Landing in Old Town, creating full-day family events at the town's beach and adding more space for vendors at the new Fisherman's Wharf. 

Smith said building the necessary tourism infrastructure will lead to other developments in town. 

"Build the infrastructure then start building the services — the tours, accommodations and food and beverage outlets," he said. 

Questions on budget, implementation

Mayor and council generally supported the plan, but some wanted to make sure that the priorities are well-implemented with the rest of council's goals. 

The most important thing is making sure this isn't a document that ends up on the shelf somewhere.- Councillor Keith Dohey

Councillor Brian Willows said the plan marries tourism development along with the other priorities of council. He asked to review this plan and watch the progress during council's term. 

Deputy Mayor Robert Bouchard wanted to know how much money council would need to foot the bill, as a heads up that they could use while planning other projects. 

Smith said the report was organized in a way to meet the tourism goals of the department of Industry, Tourism and Investment. The town has already put forward one proposal with Indigenous groups to the department but has not heard back yet. 

Magill said the town will also be explaining their ideas to the community and gathering their feedback for the upcoming marketing plan. 

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