Tourism sector in spotlight as visitors start to return

While tourists are slowly returning to the territory, moves are being made in the right direction to increase the enjoyment of their visits.

The territory is in the process of modernizing its outdated liquor laws, the City of Yellowknife has just opened a wonderful new visitor centre, and an entourage of influential Japanese business executives recently spent a weekend here eagerly learning about what we have to offer tourists.

When people visit here, those looking for places and ways to socialize might be taken aback at the restrictive nature of the way we deal with liquor. Certainly with the proper intentions of the day, but the current legislation was enacted in 2008, replacing laws first drawn up in 1983. Times have changed.

The NWT Chamber of Commerce believes proposed updates to NWT liquor laws should benefit business while also increasing social responsibility. Concerns expressed by businesses in consultations with the territorial government are included in the proposed changes to its liquor laws.

Elements of the proposed changes include streamlining licensing and permitting, relaxing restrictions on retail hours, eliminating the need for segregated beer gardens at festivals, and to make life easier for local breweries while providing new enterprise opportunities.

“During consultations with the GNWT in June of last year, the NWT Chamber said its members found the amount of red tape around liquor licences is archaic and difficult to navigate,” said chamber president Yanik D’Aigle. “We also asked for the GNWT to accommodate tourists travelling in Yellowknife who are used to more mature legislation down south or abroad.”

The 42-page NWT Liquor Legislation Review Recommendations report was issued on Sept. 7 and has been sent by the NWT Chamber to its members for their review and comments. That feedback will help shape the NWT Chamber’s full response to for the next round of GNWT stakeholder consultations later this month.

The NWT Chamber remains concerned over the GNWT’s pricing regimen, which places costs for consumers at the highest in the country. That does little to stem alcohol abuse, but encourages bootlegging.

A venue for visitors

Meanwhile, on Sept. 12, a grand opening was held for the sparkling new Yellowknife Visitor Information Centre at Centre Square Mall.

The facility will be an attraction in itself, with its inviting design and proper gallery for local artists. Fort Simpson artist Melaw Nakehk’o’s captivating paintings are up now. Her work received repeated praise from visitors in the gallery.

NWT visitors haven’t had a permanent information centre since 2017, and artists have been calling for a public gallery for some time. These are integral components in the drive to bring the territory’s tourism industry up to speed following pandemic border closures.

Japanese delegation

The NWT Chamber was part of a panel invited to speak to about 26 influential businesspeople from Japan who spent the weekend of Sept. 9 to 11 enjoying the amazing Northern lights at Aurora Village just outside of Yellowknife and learning about tourism opportunities during the daytime.

The Nagoya Chamber of Commerce and Industry included a trip to Yellowknife in its Canada mission, hearing about the city after the Toyota Motor Company did some vehicle trial runs in Yellowknife during past winters. The 2.3-million person city of Nagoya is located in the heart of Japan’s manufacturing sector, including several automobile companies.

The NWT Chamber was represented by myself and treasurer Newton Grey, who sat beside Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce executive director Melissa Syer and NWT Tourism CEO Donna Lee Demarke.

NWT Tourism was the main attraction at the hour-long presentation and question-and-answer session, as the Nagoya Chamber was keen to learn about how the NWT is rebuilding its visitor sector, post-pandemic disruption.

Demarke showed a map of the Northwest Territories to illustrate the five regions within the Northwest Territories and she explained that there are different tourism operators within those regions.

“The one thing that I would really like highlight is that we have a lot of opportunities across the territories to develop our tourism product,” she said. “There are 33 communities in the Northwest Territories. Tourism is the only industry that has the ability to be present in all 33 communities and give our residents meaningful work.

“So we are really looking to try to make sure that there’s tourism product available in all of our communities so visitors get to see the beauty of our whole territory.”

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