Mr. Speaker, businesses across the Northwest Territories have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but perhaps none more so than our tourism sector.
The tourism sector was one of the first hit by the pandemic and will likely be amongst the last to recover from its effects.
Northwest Territories tourism is reliant on national and international travel however for the time being our borders must remain closed to protect the health of our residents and our small and remote communities.
We recognize that this is happening at a cost to business owners and entrepreneurs in the Northwest Territories. For those whose livelihoods are built around attracting and welcoming visitors to our territory, the impacts have been significant.
As we mark National Tourism Week this year, we continue to work with the Government of Canada to identify a measure of relief for the Northwest Territory tourism industry that is reflective of the impact that is being felt and the significance of the tourism sector to our economy.
The advocacy of our territory’s tourism association on behalf of our tourism industry has been instrumental in helping us increase the overall awareness in Ottawa of the need for specific and regionally-appropriate support programs.
The federal government is listening. As a result of our work, CanNor’s Northern Business Relief Fund was introduced and significantly expanded relief options for Northwest Territories and Indigenous businesses. We were also able to secure additional support for the North’s airline industry, which a large portion of our tourism sector relies on. We know that some of our tourism operators have accessed relief from this fund but we still have work to do.
In the coming weeks, Premier Cochrane will be bringing the challenges faced by our tourism sector to the attention of the Prime Minister, asking for more funding under the Northern Business Relief Fund to address the specific needs of our operators and tourism businesses.
Meanwhile, as Northwest Territories businesses begin to resume operations across the territory, and we take steps to recover our economy, we have re-introduced our Support for Entrepreneurs and Economic Development Program, also known as SEED for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. It represents $4 million dollars of investment into businesses in our communities.
Similarly, we will inject almost $4.4 million into parks infrastructure, tourism product development and community infrastructure projects this summer; supporting local suppliers, contractors and employees as we improve our tourism product for the future.
We will be waiving tourism insurance requirements and licensing fees for the 2020-21 season as another means of short term relief.
Mr. Speaker, in the wake of COVID-19 the landscape of tourism in the Northwest Territories has changed. We are already considering how our next tourism strategy can be adapted and its funding approach redefined to support the economic recovery of our tourism sector. To this end we are once again engaging with our tourism sector specifically to understand the level to which their businesses and operations have been changed.
As we do so, we can take some comfort in what hasn’t, and will not, change. With its wild natural beauty, rich cultures, midnight sun, and Aurora Borealis, our North remains as attractive as ever before.
Northerners will always be warm and welcoming; our industry vibrant and resilient; and our tourism product spectacular. It will take time, and it will take work, but we will recover. Our borders will open and our North will once again take its place as one of the world’s most spectacular tourism destinations.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.