With warmer weather comes an influx of visitors, and Hay River is ready.
“We’re the hub,” said Jordan Stackhouse, the economic co-ordinator with the Town of Hay River. “We’re in a good spot in that it’s a central point for the South Slave. We’re a bit of a gateway, too. Tourists can go on to Yellowknife or visit Fort Smith from here.”
According to Stackhouse, about 600 people passed through the Hay River Visitor Information Centre last year.
With the town being only 10 hours driving distance from Edmonton, he and the town are fighting the perception that the NWT is a distant place, as well as the tendency for people to think in terms of going either east or west, and not realizing they can head north.
“It comes down to marketing,” Stackhouse said. “It also means that whatever (tourism operators) are offering, they have to deliver.”
Among the changes this year are customer service training, through the Hay River Chamber of Commerce, for the visitor info centre’s staff and a greater push to educate them about the area they will be promoting.
One of Stackhouse’s priorities has been to hire local people who know the area and who can speak personally about the attractions.
“Getting the people working here to go out on the tours this year will make them even more knowledgeable and that much more able to advise the tourists who come through,” he said.
More than anything, he said tourists come to Hay River for the outdoor offerings.
Hay River and the Hay River Reserve have some of the best fishing in Canada, and are the perfect settings for a plethora of outdoor activities.
Doug Lamalice, a long-time tour operator and current manager of Twin Falls Territorial Park south of Enterprise, thinks it goes even deeper than visitors simply wanting to spend time outside.
“They come here and they tell me that they can finally breathe freely,” he told The Hub. “Many of them come from claustrophobic places and, when you’re surrounded by openness, you have no choice but to reflect.”
Lamalice, who managed the park last year as well, said approximately 5,500 people visited the area last summer and Hay River should have seen about 1,500 of those. However, he claims there is a dearth of tourist attractions in Hay River and he can only really send people into town on Saturdays for the Fisherman’s Wharf outdoor market.
“You can’t have a feast with no food,” Lamalice said. “We have a lot of beauty, but we need to work together to make sure we have something substantive to offer visitors.”
— Sarah Ladik