Tour operators and hotels in Yellowknife are being hit with a number of cancellations from Chinese tourists in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the Associated Press, the China Association of Travel Services reported that the Chinese government has ordered travel agencies to suspend all group tours to help limit the spread of the virus, which has killed at least 81 people in that country as of Monday.
There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Northwest Territories, the N.W.T. Department of Health stated in an email late Monday afternoon.
Aurora Holiday, a Yellowknife-based tour company, says more than 200 people have cancelled their tours in the last three weeks. The company books hotels, rental cars and day tours for Chinese people looking to travel to the Northwest Territories.
The company’s owner, Hysan Lee, said those cancellations make up more than half of his current bookings for the next two months. He said he’s had lay off a few of his employees temporarily.
“Right now there are so many cancellations that we have had to stop [employing them]. There’s not too many guests,” he said.
Yellowknife’s Quality Inn hotel has also taken a hit. Sales manager Riza Mercado told CBC News the hotel has had 20 cancellations in the last three days alone.
Also in the city, Discovery Inn has had six cancellations, though it says only 10 per cent of its guests come from China.
“Particularly the last week, with the travel restrictions, we do have a few cancellations, but our primary market is not tied to the Chinese mainland. It’s spread out over [Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong],” said Discovery Inn manager Edward Tise.
With no indication as to when group tours can resume, the suspension of tours could have a drastic impact on the territory’s growing tourism sector, especially at the height of the aurora borealis viewing season.
The number of Chinese tourists to the territory has skyrocketed over the last few years. Visitors from China eclipsed all other international visitor numbers in 2018, while the number of Japanese visitors dropped by 40 per cent. Just under 19,500 Chinese tourists came to the Northwest Territories during that time, versus about 8,000 Japanese.
Even though his business has taken an big hit, Lee — who is originally from China — says he understands why the Chinese government is taking these precautions.
“There is nothing I can do,” he said. “I told everybody, ‘Have a good life, be healthy, take care.'”
Related stories from around the North:
Finland: Two suspected coronavirus cases in Arctic Finland, Yle News
Russia: Mass vaccination against anthrax continues on Yamal Peninsula, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Warnings in Sweden about dangerous bacteria in Baltic Sea, Radio Sweden
United States: Alaska sees first measles case since 2015, Alaska Public Media