A survey conducted this past tourism season found that visitors gave Hay River an average ranking of seven out of 10 for the visiting experience.
That nugget of information was contained in a report on the tourism season presented to town council on Oct. 15 by Jordan Stackhouse, the town’s economic co-ordinator.
“It means that people are fairly satisfied with our community and what we have to offer,” Stackhouse said of the approximately 40 survey responses, which were collected for a month at the Hay River Visitor Information Centre.
Visitors cited the friendly people, outdoor activities and Great Slave Lake as some of the best experiences.
“It’s important to realize what our assets are and what we do well, and try to stick to it,” Stackhouse told council.
“Obviously, the majority of people come for camping, fishing, sightseeing, and outdoor activities,” he said, adding many come just to see the North and are attracted by the accessibility of Hay River. “That’s what’s nice about Hay River. It’s accessible from the South.”
Asked what they would like to see changed, responders indicated the town is headed in the right direction, but there is room to improve in terms of tourism offerings and infrastructure.
Stackhouse noted one thing mentioned was the need for more wireless Internet locations in the community.
During the tourism season from May 15 to Sept. 15, about a 1,000 people dropped into the Visitor Information Centre.
Of those visitors, 80 per cent came from elsewhere in Canada, with more than 50 per cent of those Canadians coming from Alberta, followed by B.C. in a distant second and then Ontario.
Among international visitors, 104 came from the United States, followed by 40 from Germany.
“Average length of stay was three days,” noted Stackhouse. “We had some people staying weeks and weeks. They were typically travelling around to Fort Smith and other places.”
The number of visitors stopping into the Visitor Information Centre ranged from a high of 325 in July to a low of 22 for the half-month the centre was open in May.
Stackhouse was generally pleased with the numbers and the reactions of visitors.
“Overall, it was pretty good,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Brad Mapes also was pleased with the report.
“It was pretty good,” Mapes told Stackhouse. “One of the things I’d like to see, if possible, is to look at the numbers that the GNWT did at the tourism booth at the parallel to see what kind of numbers went through there that actually came through Hay River.”
The report suggested to council that it might be a good idea to create a separate tourism website in addition to the existing town website.
“I think there is value in it,” Stackhouse said, noting the existing website has some problems. “It’s pretty difficult to find information you’re looking for on there.”
The economic co-ordinator explained a tourism website would be a central location where potential visitors could find information about Hay River.
Mayor Andrew Cassidy wondered what the value would be in a stand-alone tourism website.
“Would that add confusion?” Cassidy asked. “I know if I’m interested in a community down south, I don’t try to find a tourist website. I typically go to whatever website I think is the town one, and I always consider that to be the de facto website.”
Stackhouse said a town website could be more business-oriented and a secondary tourism website could be all about visiting, noting some other communities already have two sites.
Coun. Donna Lee Jungkind said two websites should not create any problems as long as they are clearly linked so users can easily go back and forth.
Looking forward to next year, Stackhouse suggested the town might want to consider keeping the Visitor Information Centre open until Sept. 30.
Based on numbers from NWT Tourism, it is estimated that tourism adds more than $1 million annually to the Hay River economy.
— Paul Bickford