While specific skills and ideas were on offer at last week’s NWT Tourism’s conference and AGM in Hay River, the connections made there were more important, according to some operators.
“It makes you feel like you’re not all alone out there,” said Fraser Pike, co-owner of 2 Seasons Adventures in Hay River. “You talk to these people on the phone, but it’s good to meet them face-to-face and see what they’re doing with their own businesses.”
The three-day conference from Nov. 5-7 covered subjects ranging from aurora viewing developments to social media use – the latter being some of the most useful information of the event, according to Pike.
“I wish they could give us a month to play with that information and then come back and give us another course,” he said. “Like a booster shot.”
Pike said one of the greatest challenges facing all operators in the NWT is marketing their specific talents and services.
Social media and Internet resources such as Trip Advisor are relatively low-cost places to successfully promote a tourism business if used to their full capacity.
“We need a new advertising strategy,” Pike said. “And we need to keep it up, not just for a few weeks, but consistently. As a group, we went on the Trip Advisor website and looked for Hay River, and there really wasn’t much there.”
Wally Schumann, president of the Hay River Metis Council, said he went to the conference as a participant, but didn’t fully grasp the broad range of tourism in terms of social and economic activities before taking part in some of the discussions.
“I learned how hard some of these operators have to work,” he said. “It’s not an easy industry.”
Schumann said Deline came up several times as a model for outlying communities to follow. The community has succeeded in marketing its traditional lifestyle to tourists and has reaped the benefits from those travellers, as well as high-profile visitors, such as NHL players.
Ria Letcher, co-chair of the Aboriginal Tourism Champions Advisory Council that unveiled its recommendations for a strategic action plan during the conference, said that, while there are many barriers to creating a tourism industry in the North, she believes there is much room for growth.
“It’s slow, but I’m grateful for all the progress that has been made so far,” she said.
Letcher also said that, while many aboriginal residents that the advisory council encountered are more than capable of taking visitors out on the land – in short, the legwork of tourism operating – they may not be as comfortable running the books and the business side of the venture. The recommendations partly seek to address that need for education, as well as greater promotion of aboriginal tourism products, in general.
Presenters at the conference sought to showcase the growing industry as one that can benefit all northerners, regardless of their careers.
Schumann said he thinks it’s the natural way of NWT residents to be welcoming, but the conference helped him realize how that is such a great advantage, noting, “We should all be thinking of ourselves as ambassadors of the spectacular NWT.”
— Sarah Ladik