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Cancelled cruises like an 'asteroid hitting the tourism industry,' says Yukon association

Holland America Line's decision this week to cancel all of its excursions into Yukon will mean about $40 to $60 million in lost revenue, says the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon.

Holland America Line announced this week it was cancelling all Yukon excursions this summer

Carcross, Yukon, is one of the territory's busiest communities in the summer, as thousands of cruise ship passengers venture up from Skagway, Alaska, to see the sights. It's going to be a lot quieter this year. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

It's Yukon's second-biggest industry — and so far, the territory's tourism sector looks like it will take a massive hit from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, cruise giant Holland America Line announced it was cancelling almost all of its Alaska cruises for the summer, and all of its excursions into Yukon. 

Neil Hartling, chair of the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon, compares it to "an asteroid hitting the tourism industry."

"For some operators, it represents the majority of their business," he said.

Thousands of Holland America passengers make their way into Yukon as part of their Alaska cruise packages. Some do day trips from Skagway, Alaska, to Carcross, Yukon. Others are bussed on longer trips to Whitehorse or Dawson City.

Hartling said all told, Holland America tourists inject about $40 to $60 million into the Yukon economy every year. Losing that will be devastating, he said.

"It's a very, very big hit to to the operators and also to the community at large," he said.

'It's a very, very big hit to to the operators and also to the community at large,' said Neil Hartling of the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon, about Holland America's cancelled trips this year. (Submitted by Neil Hartling)

"That money comes into the Yukon and flows through many suppliers, many services — everything from hotel employees, to cooks, to food suppliers, to transportation and restaurants and on and on."

Hartling said Carcross and the Southern Lakes region alone sees approximately 90,000 cruise ship passengers every year, representing more than half of all the region's annual visitors. Those passengers typically spend more than half a million dollars in the area annually, he said.

'I can't help but feel the grief'

Jeanie Dendys, Yukon's tourism minister, said she feels for the territory's tour operators as most of them are small businesses who will struggle.

"I can't help but feel the grief that, you know, they're feeling right now," Dendys said.

"Because it's really, for many of them, it's a lifestyle choice. It's a lifetime commitment to build the right kind of experience, to welcome visitors to our territory."

Dendys said the tourism industry is resilient, and her government will look for ways to help. She points to last week's announcement of a territorial relief program to help local businesses cover fixed costs and hopefully stay afloat for the next couple of months.

'We're going to walk through this together,' said Yukon Tourism Minister Jeanie Dendys. (Karen Vallevand/CBC)

"We're going to walk through this together," Dendys said.

Funding 'good start' but need ongoing support

Hartling, with the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon, said the financial help offered so far from the Yukon and federal governments is a "good start," but the tourism industry will take a long time to recover and may need some ongoing support.

"On those [funding] programs the horizon is quite short. You're talking about a couple of months in duration, so far," he said.

He's worried that Holland America's announcement is the beginning of a wave of bad news for tourism this summer.

When times are tough and people want to cut expenses, he says, tourism is usually one of the first things to go, he said.

"I think it's only just the indicator of more to come."

With files from Jane Sponagle

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