Yukon government disputes claims money wasted by tourism department

A tourism official says the territorial government made good use of $600,000 spent on gathering information from tourists in 2012 and 2013 after questions raised in the legislature.

Contractor and opposition politician question whether government made good use of visitor surveys

Yukon Tourism says $600,000 spent on a visitor tracking program in 2012-2013 has been put to good use. (Dave Croft/CBC)

The Yukon tourism department did not waste $600,000 spent gathering visitor information four years ago, according to Industry Services Manager Sarah Marsh.

Yukon Liberal leader Sandy Silver raised the issue in the legislature on Wednesday questioning Tourism Minister Elaine Taylor about the program.

The large contract to track visitors to the territory was awarded to DataPath Systems, a Yukon-based market research company.

It involved running two simultaneous surveys for a 12-month period in 2012 and 2013, said Donna Larsen, one of the two partners at DataPath Systems.

Surveys done using traditional and untested methods

One survey used the Yukon government's traditional method of hiring people to interview tourists at various points around the territory including border crossings.

The other survey was done by setting up computer kiosks at more than 20 locations such as visitor centres, museums and hotels. Comment boxes were also put in hotels and RV Parks where tourists could fill out questionnaires.

"We proved with the data that the kiosk data that was collected was just as valid as the expensive traditional data was," Larsen said.

Much of that data has been posted on the Yukon government's website.

Larsen said there were also plans to break the information down into isolated reports that could be used by tourism operators for planning and marketing. An employee in the tourism department was also tapped to travel around the territory to explain the details, she said.

The annual Yukon River Quest race from Whitehorse to Dawson City is a big draw for visitors. (CBC)
Larsen said she's never been told why the plans to continue the work were called off and her attempts to resurrect it have been ignored.

"The contract ended, so that's fair, the contract was over, but the plan was designed to make something that would be continued, extra money was spent to make sure we could build something that we could tweak and [keep] going," she said.

There was no need to keep gathering information, said tourism official Sarah Marsh. Marsh said the kiosk system provided valuable information, but there was no technical support for the computer stations.

"They're just out in the public and anyone's kids could start playing on them or something might get spilled on them or they might get damaged somehow," she said.

Marsh added the government has used the information gathered by DataPath to provide general summaries and customized reports to community and business groups with specific information.

"We've had positive feedback about that, we were able to do a lot of custom work for different tourism stakeholders and they've been really appreciative of it, and they've made good use of it." she said.

Gov't considering highway cameras to photograph license plates

Marsh said the tourism department plans to begin gathering more information again as early as next year to refresh the presentations it provides.

Larsen, however, said the shelf life for information gathered in 2012 is short because tourists' behaviour is volatile.

Dawson City in the Klondike is one of the Yukon's major tourist attractions. (CBC)
"In economic times that are more positive, they go on excursions, they go down to Skagway and spend a little extra money, and they go up to Dawson and spend a little extra money, you know gas prices are low, they're going to travel around, they're going to put more miles on because they're not worried about gas prices.

"Behaviour changes based on lots and lots and lots of factors," she said.

Marsh said the department has stopped providing estimates of the number of annual visitors to the Yukon, in part because of the difficulty of sorting residents from visitors recorded by airport arrivals and mechanical highway counters.

The government is looking into highway cameras that record images of licence plates, she said.