The GNWT has released very positive tourism numbers for 2015/2016.
According to the statistics released on Oct. 7, visitation numbers matched the highest-ever achieved, and expenditures were the largest ever recorded in the NWT.
For 2015/2016, the total number of visitors was 93,910, an 11 per cent increase from the 84,810 visitors in 2014/2015.
Visitor spending saw a 14 per cent increase from $146.6 million in 2014/2015 to $167.1 million in 2015/2016.
Those positive numbers also appear to be reflected in Hay River, where the Hay River Heritage Centre saw a large increase in the number of visitors.
Kirk Vander Ploeg, the manager of the museum, said, as of Oct. 14, the museum had counted 2,244 visitors.
“We are very diligent about having the guests sign the guestbook,” he said. “We’ll miss a few but we’re pretty happy with the number. I’m confident in that number. We include any visitor that comes to the building.”
And it is a significant increase from last year.
“Last year, we were at 1,400 people. So this is a jump of almost 60 per cent,” said Vander Ploeg. “And we’re not done. We have some events coming.”
The museum manager estimated that 55 per cent of visitors come from the South Slave – which he counts as local people and not tourists – and 45 per cent come from further afield.
Of the 1,400 visitors last year, he estimated about 600 people were tourists.
And he believes about 1,000 people from outside the South Slave visited the museum this year since it opened in early June.
The museum closes for the year in mid-December.
However, most of its coming events will involve local people, and the tourism season is basically over.
“We might get the odd person that’s looking for the Northern lights,” said Vander Ploeg, who said the number of tourists drops as soon as the territorial campgrounds close on Sept. 15.
Vander Ploeg suggested a number of reasons for the increase in tourism – the low Canadian dollar compared to the U.S. dollar, and turmoil in the world that makes Canada look like a safe option to visit.
The Hay River Heritage Centre welcomed visitors from all over the world this year, including people from across Canada and the United States, numerous countries in Europe, Australia, Japan and elsewhere.
The visitors from furthest away came from Tasmania, said Vander Ploeg. “You can’t get much further away from Hay River than Tasmania.”
There were a number of interesting aspects of the tourism numbers released by the GNWT.
Aurora viewing was the most common reason for visiting the NWT. In 2015/2016, there were 24,300 people who visited for that reason, an increase of 48 per cent from the year before.
Meanwhile, there were 510 people who came to the NWT to hunt and 4,600 who came to fish.
All the various categories saw an increase in the number of visitors, except for one.
The number of people who came to the NWT to visit friends and relatives plunged 29 per cent from 17,200 in 2014/2015 to 12,200 in 2015/2016.
– Paul Bickford