Mr. Speaker, I rise today to report positive results and trends from this government’s investments and initiatives in the NWT tourism sector.
The official tourism statistics for the last fiscal year will be available in late October but the preliminary results are promising. We are seeing a broad spectrum of interest in the tourism activities available in the Northwest Territories. In particular, the segment of visitors from China, who are commonly associated with aurora viewing, are exploring well beyond this sector.
For example, this past summer, 50 Chinese tourists travelled the Dempster Highway to Inuvik. There, they participated in numerous events and activities, including a community feast and drum dance. It was, they say, an unforgettable experience – and still more evidence of the unique and spectacular tourism product that is available to those that choose the NWT as a destination for their holidays and business travel.
Since January 2014, the Northern Frontier Visitor Centre in Yellowknife has received close to 7,000 visitors from China – a number that represents an incredible growth in this target market. Only four years ago, the number of Chinese visitors to our territory was in the low hundreds.
The growth in the Chinese market is not an accident. It has been strategically advanced by our government’s trade missions to China; supported by investments, made through the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, into the operators and businesses that make up the tourism sector, and enhanced by new marketing funds approved by this Assembly for NWT Tourism.
The value of these efforts was confirmed when the Premier and I had the opportunity to host His Excellency Luo Zhaohui, Ambassador of China to Canada, on his first visit to the Northwest Territories earlier this month. A visit from China’s highest ranking official in Canada was a great opportunity to show off the tremendous tourism offerings in this region, as well as in Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. During his visit, Ambassador Luo remarked on the natural beauty of this territory and our well-developed infrastructure. He also spoke publicly about his interest in doing more to support and promote NWT tourism at home in China.
Meanwhile, Mr. Speaker, tour operators in the North Slave and Sahtu Regions are reporting an excellent summer season; demand for river adventures in the Mackenzie Mountains west of Norman Wells was at record levels, and tour operators on Great Slave Lake worked virtually without a break throughout the summer.
Preliminary estimates indicate that the number of campground permits issued this season is up by 14 percent over last summer. Satisfaction with our parks amenities and services remains high, and public response to the cultural interpretive program offered this past summer, especially in the Beaufort Delta parks system, was overwhelmingly positive.
The strength of an increased tourism demand is evidenced in the new capital investments we are witness to in Yellowknife’s accommodation sector; and the investments that communities across the NWT are advancing to improve the appeal of their local tourism infrastructure and product.
Communities such as Inuvik, Tsiigehtchic, Jean Marie River, Fort Simpson, Deline, Fort McPherson, and Lutselk’e have all partnered with the GNWT this year to invest in trails, signage, visitor centres, and other improvements with a view to attract and retain visitors and improve their travel experience in the NWT.
We know that the awareness and recognition for our territory’s existing attractions and infrastructures is also growing, as evidenced, earlier this year, by Explore Magazine, which named Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park near Fort Smith as one of the Top 25 Campsites in Canada.
Through training and skills development, we have supported our capital spending with investments in the men and women that make up our tourism sector. With a full suite of training and skills development workshops, ITI has worked with the NWT tourism industry to advance the safety, hospitality and the business savvy of our many and varying operators and business owners.
We have also seen considerable growth in the Aboriginal tourism sector, with a number of Aboriginal-owned and operated tourism businesses growing and thriving over the life of this government.
Since 2014/15, we have leveraged over one million dollars in federal investment to match GNWT investments in tourism businesses, skills development and Aboriginal community tourism – a reflection of the shared commitment that exists at all levels of government to developing a healthy tourism economy.
I am also pleased to report that the NWT’s new Convention Bureau, still in the first full year of operation, has confirmed five events. Another six are in the offing. They represent an estimated $1.8 million in future conference revenues, not to mention spin-off benefits for transportation suppliers, restaurants, artisans and tourism operators throughout the territory.
At a time when our economy is challenged by a downturn in resource exploration and development, a weak dollar and the impacts of a worldwide recession, our tourism sector has remained strong and shown signs of vibrancy and growth.
Annual visitors spending in 2013/14 was 132.5 million. Despite the fires that impacted travellers in the summer of 2014, we are recognizing modest increases for 2014/15, and we are expecting these numbers to rise even higher based on the strength of this year’s summer tourism season.
Supporting promising and successful sectors like tourism is an important part of our effort to foster the kind of economic growth this territory needs to build a prosperous future and ensure our government has the resources it needs to deliver programs and services to our residents.
Mr. Speaker, the tourism industry that we recognize in our territory today is strong and growing. It is a testament to the wisdom of this Assembly’s decision-making, in the face of tough economic conditions, to invest in a sector that is growing, bringing new dollars into our economy and creating jobs and opportunity throughout the territory. I would like to thank this Assembly for its support for our territory’s tourism and parks sector; the results of which I am able to share today.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.