Facing a bleak season, Yukon tourism outfitter shifts to hand sanitizer

Facing an uncertain season, a Whitehorse-based outfitter has developed a back-up plan tailored to the COVID-19 pandemic. He's going into the hand-sanitizer business.

'There's always opportunities, and so we took it,' says Thomas de Jager of Yukon Wide Adventures

Thomas de Jager is a tourist outfitter in Whitehorse. He's bought a new still and other equipment to make and bottle hand sanitizer. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Thomas de Jager is under no illusions — this summer will likely be a bad one for the tourism industry in Yukon.

So the Whitehorse-based outfitter has developed a back-up plan, tailored to the COVID-19 pandemic. He's going into the hand-sanitizer business.

"You know, we can just not sit there and put our hands in our pocket and say, 'that's what it is,' and we cry and everything is so bad. There's always opportunities, and so we took it," he said.

The German-born de Jager has been in Yukon since the 1990s, and his tourism business, Yukon Wide Adventures, specializes in outfitting canoe and kayak trips.

He's not expecting many customers this year, though, because of strict travel restrictions in Canada and Yukon.

"Yeah, it's very uncertain how our business will be affected ... so we started about six, eight weeks ago to look into how we can sustain this situation for long term."

It's uncertain how much use de Jager's canoes will see this year. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

That's when he decided to draw on another part of his professional background — in chemistry. He says he studied chemistry and worked in the field for years before becoming an outfitter in Yukon.

"I always had a passion for chemistry," he said. "So I have about 10 years of experience in laboratory and chemical work and quality management."

He bought a brand-new still, thinking he might start making alcohol for hand sanitizer. He says he quickly started getting inquiries, so he knew there was a demand.

"Now we have a liquor licence, our product is fully licensed and certified by Health Canada," he says.

"We use 80 per cent alcohol and just glycerin to moisten your hands and no other chemicals. And that is the important thing compared to lots of the other hand sanitizers which are only 60 or 70 per cent [alcohol]. There's lots of chemicals." 

Some of de Jager's product. He has a big shipment of empty bottles coming from China so he can start producing on a larger scale. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

He has a label-making machine, and another machine to fill the bottles. He has 150,000 empty bottles coming from China, possibly this week.

De Jager says he's hoping to sell his product in Yukon, but says he's also had inquiries from the N.W.T., Alberta and Ontario. 

"We said $25,000 we want to invest, and right now we are almost with $80,000 in it," he said.

With files from Dave White


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