Illegal tour operators in N.W.T. under control, says tourism minister

Wally Schumann, the Northwest Territories' minister of industry, tourism and investment, faced questions on Tuesday following two CBC News stories on rule-breaking in the N.W.T.'s $200-million tourism industry.

MLA raises issue in Legislative Assembly following CBC News reports, complaints from constituents

The northern lights are shown in April over Prelude Lake, N.W.T., a popular viewing spot for tourists. Wally Schumann, the minister responsible for tourism in the N.W.T., says the department is taking steps to crack down on illegal tour operators. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC )

The minister responsible for tourism in the Northwest Territories says the government is doing more to combat illegal tour operators, but insists the problem is under control.

Wally Schumann, the industry, tourism and investment minister, faced questioning from Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart on Tuesday, following two CBC News stories on rule-breaking in the territory's $200-million tourism industry. 

Testart cited those news reports and complaints that he's heard from his constituents as reasons why he raised the issue in the Legislative Assembly.

"What these complaints and documents reveal is a business environment with little to no consequence for illegal tourism operators," Testart said, "with fly-in, fly-out operations exploiting a lack of readiness on the part of this government to ensure all operators are held to the same standard."

The CBC stories detail multiple interviews, documents and emails showing there's a growing concern over unlicensed tour operators and other violations of tourism regulations in the N.W.T.

In one of 150 internal emails obtained under the Access to Information and Privacy Act, a tourism official called licence-related complaints "a big can of worm[s]," adding that "[An officer's] phone is ringing off the hook."

Schumann suggests the complaints are growing pains in a new industry and are not widespread or systemic, echoing what department officials have said previously.

Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Wally Schumann says the Northwest Territories is one of a few jurisdictions in Canada to license tour operators. He says his department is taking steps to regulate the industry. (CBC)

"The Northwest Territories is one of the few jurisdictions in Canada to require a licence; I want that on the record," Schumann said. "I don't think this is a rampant problem that's happening. 

"Sure, there's problems that come along with success. Success in the tourism industry is hugely [important] to the Northwest Territories and particularly to Yellowknife," he said. 

Schumann then listed a series of steps the Industry, Tourism and Investment Department is undertaking to improve the enforcement of illegal operators. That includes:

  • Installing a manager of tourism in the North Slave region.
  • Completing weekly tours and inspections of aurora tourism operators.
  • Giving enforcement authorities to tourist development officers and parks officers.
  • Changing deadlines for tour operator licence renewals.
  • Introducing requirements for licensed tour operators to carry a licensing card.
  • Introducing a new pilot program requiring aurora tour operators to have a sticker on their vehicles. 

"We don't believe there's an unlicensed tourism situation that's rampant in the Northwest Territories," Schumann said. "We take these comments by the news outlet seriously, but this situation is not as dire as this story makes it seem."

— With files from Priscilla Hwang

Tour Territory is an ongoing series produced by CBC's Priscilla Hwang. The next story will look specifically at the N.W.T.'s aurora tourism industry. 

Do you have a story or news tip about tourism in the N.W.T.? Contact her at 


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