Some hotels in northwestern Canada still willing to book U.S. travellers, despite restrictions

A CBC News investigation found that some hotels in downtown Whitehorse are still willing to book U.S. travellers, even though those travellers are not currently permitted to visit the downtown. (Submitted by Russ Knutson)
Hotels in downtown Whitehorse are offering mixed messages to would-be guests from the U.S.

Under the Yukon government’s current border restrictions, travellers heading through Yukon, to Alaska or the N.W.T., are supposed to stay out of communities, including downtown Whitehorse.

But some hotels in downtown Whitehorse are still willing to book U.S. travellers. The Yukon Inn incorrectly said there was no reason U.S. guests couldn’t stay downtown. The inn’s manager did not respond to a request for comment.

As part of an investigation, a CBC reporter phoned downtown hotels claiming to be an American traveller headed to Fairbanks, Alaska. Such methods are permitted by CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices when the information is in the public interest and cannot be obtained any other way. The use of such methods must be approved by senior staff.

The Elite Hotel was willing to take the booking, though it requires all guests to wear face coverings, and warned that guests could be turned away at highway check stops in Watson Lake or Whitehorse.

The Elite Hotel says it is not accepting guests from outside Canada and requires all guests to wear face coverings while in shared areas. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

But a sign on the Elite’s front door says the hotel is “not accepting any travellers from outside of Canada due to Covid-19.” During a second phone call, the Elite’s manager declined an interview but said the discrepancy was an error by staff.

Two hotels, the Gold Rush Inn and the Westmark, flatly refused to book U.S. travellers.

For the rest, confusion reigned. Most were willing to book travellers, but warned visitors might not be allowed downtown, or that those reservations would be cancelled.

Yukoners and non-Yukoners on different floors

Staff at the Raven Inn said they didn’t know of any restrictions for U.S. travellers. Speaking to CBC later, hotel co-owner Doug Gilday said that was a mistake.

“There may have been an error there, but I’ll correct it,” he said.

Gilday said the hotel’s policy is that travellers should follow all government rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And he said the hotel even puts Yukoners and non-Yukoners on different floors.

“We’ve got a floor designated for people who are coming in perfectly legally from B.C. now and from some Northern jurisdictions.”

‘People are desperately trying to stay in business,’ said Rich Thompson, president of Northern Vision Development. (CBC)

Two hotels owned by the same company even gave different answers. Northern Vision Development owns both the Gold Rush Inn, which refused to book American guests, and the Edgewater, which was willing to book a U.S. guest but warned it would likely be cancelled.

Rich Thompson, CEO of Northern Vision Development, said that with uncertainty about when the border controls might ease, hotels may feel they need to book guests, while warning their stays could get cancelled. Thompson said his company’s hotels are offering full refunds in those cases.

‘Such a dicey thing’

Thompson said hotels are in a tough situation. The COVID-19 pandemic has virtually wiped out the summer tourist season.

“It is such a dicey thing and people are desperately trying to stay in business … and people get confused and think if a company is trying to stay in business then they don’t care about the health protocols,” Thompson said.

“[But we’re] very concerned about the health protocols because the last thing that business needs is a resurgence” of COVID-19 cases, he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Community Services, which oversees the government’s public health orders, said the onus is on individual travellers, not hotel owners, to ensure they stick to approved travel routes.

Kate Power, who works at the Yukon government’s roadside information kiosk just outside downtown Whitehorse, said most American travellers are aware of the rules governing where they’re allowed to go. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

The spokesperson said enforcement officers have investigated complaints about Americans venturing into places they’re not supposed to go. But she said officers tend to prefer education over enforcement.

Kate Power, an information officer at the Yukon government’s roadside kiosk on the Alaska Highway in Whitehorse, said the majority of American travellers she sees know what the rules are.

“They all are usually wearing their masks. They just answer our questions quite quickly,” Power said. “Most of them are just trying to get out of here quickly. They just want to go home.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Inuit region of Arctic Quebec OKs church reopenings, CBC News

Finland: Russian tourists eager to book holidays in Finland despite border closure, Yle News

Greenland: Greenland extends COVID-19 entry requirements until July 20, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland revises COVID-19 border screening rules for citizens, residents, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norwegian Arctic wilderness tourism hit particularly hard by coronavirus, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: The city that builds Russia’s nuclear submarines now has more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden’s top epidemiologist admits he got COVID-19 strategy wrong, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska Highway travellers might be in for rough ride this summer, CBC News

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