Staff shortages, inflation hard on business owners
Yukon’s tourism industry is coming back to life, but for operators getting back to normal hasn’t come without challenges.
In Dawson City, streets are filled with visitors taking pictures and participating in group tours. Many hotels are reaching capacity on weekend nights.
It’s a welcome change for Andy Cunningham, marketing and events manager for the Klondike Visitors Association (KVA), which represents several businesses in the area.
“It’s nice to have a tourism season again,” Cunningham said. “It’s a bit of a shock after the last few years, but a good shock because it’s what we’re used to.”
But in the face of a labour shortage, some businesses are struggling to hire enough staff to keep up with demand.
The KVA also operates Diamond Tooth Gerties, a casino in Dawson City known for nightly, high-energy performances. Gerties has cut its hours back from seven days a week to five because there’s not enough staff to stay open.
“We’re really, really feeling it,” Cunningham said. “And we’re not the only ones. There’s a lot of businesses that are taking one or two nights off because they just don’t have the people.”
At 6.3 per cent, Yukon has the highest job vacancy rate in Canada.
Blake Rogers, executive director of Yukon’s Tourism Industry Association, said businesses across the territory are struggling to recruit staff.
Staffing shortages have made it harder for tourists to find accommodations, particularly in Whitehorse, Rogers said, because some hotels and inns don’t have the resources to service all their rooms.
“Not having enough staff really does limit businesses,” Rogers said. “We’re seeing a lot of businesses that have reduced hours or reduced services. So this is really challenging, especially in peak season where there’s a higher demand.”
Long way to go before it bounces back from pandemic lulls
On top of staffing shortages, Rogers said supply chain issues and inflation have been posing challenges for local businesses. This month, Canada’s inflation rate rose to 8.1 per cent, the fastest annual increase in decades.
Rogers also expressed concern with some border hours and restrictions. He said Little Gold Creek border crossing, between the Yukon and Alaska, has reduced hours and is open for fewer weeks this season compared to previous years. He’d like to see hours return to pre-pandemic levels next season.
Tourism operators and businesses have also expressed frustration with the ArriveCAN app, which travelers are required to complete before crossing the border into Canada. Glitches with the app have caused confusion among travelers; last week, some were erroneously told they had to complete a two-week quarantine. Rogers said he hoped the messaging around border crossings would be clearer and more consistent going forward.
And while it’s great to see tourists coming back to the territory, Rogers said the industry still has a long way to go before it bounces back from pandemic lulls.
“Tourism was really on economic life support over the last couple of years,” he said. “Even though it’s back up to walking right now, it’s not running at full pace by any stretch.”
For now, he hopes tourism operators and visitors alike will be patient in the face of challenges.
“I think the big message out there is just to try to encourage people to manage expectations and be empathetic.”
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Inuvik, Canada, braces for surge in tourism, CBC News