Arctic Canada: Yukon tourism operators brace for impact of COVID-19 this summer

The Carcross Commons is always a popular stopping place for tourists, especially those from Alaskan cruise ships. Tourism operators in Yukon are expecting to take a hit this year from cancelled cruises. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)
Tourism operators in Yukon are bracing for a bad season this summer because of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, and cancelled cruises, and they’re asking for government help to soften the financial blow.

“What we think would be really helpful is a stimulus package of at least $2.5 million,” said Blake Rogers, executive director of the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon.

“It’s not a time to panic, it’s definitely a time to be concerned. We are concerned about how deep the hole could be, and that’s why we’re making the requests that we are — to make sure operators feel safe for the season.”

Yukon typically sees thousands of international visitors every summer, many of them passengers from Alaskan cruises.

This is your year to explore your Yukon. There was never a better time.Neil Hartling, Tourism Industry Association of Yukon

The tourism association surveyed some of its members this week, to ask them what they’re expecting this year. The association said about 50 operators responded, and confirmed that things are looking tough — direct losses may be around $2 million.

“At this point, the medium and long-term projections are reporting declines of about 25 to 30 per cent overall, with some seeing a drop in bookings as much as 50 per cent,” reads a news release from the association.

‘It’s not a time to panic, it’s definitely a time to be concerned,’ said Blake Rogers of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

Neil Hartling of the association said things are changing fast. He said even last weekend, many operators were feeling confident, despite the growing spread of the coronavirus elsewhere.

“This scenario is changing now by the hour,” Hartling said.

Hartling said Yukon’s tourism industry has faced similar uncertainty a handful of times in the past. For example, after 9/11, the SARS epidemic, and the financial crisis of 2008. He said his own business survived each of those, but it was “challenging.”

“Each one had a significant negative effect on tourism, and took good recovery time,” Hartling said.

He urged fledgling tourism operators in Yukon to “stick to fundamentals” right now.

“Know your numbers, and have plans A, B, C, D,” he said.

Cruise ship season in Skagway, Alaska, typically starts around early May. (Steve Silva/CBC)

The tourism association is also urging Yukoners to consider travelling closer to home this year, and supporting local businesses.

“This is your year to explore your Yukon. There was never a better time,” Hartling said.

CBC News

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