The Yukon’s tourism industry is sending out an SOS but nobody seems to be listening, says the executive director of the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon (TIA).
Blake Rogers said today the industry needs Premier Sandy Silver and his cabinet to at least come to the table and have a discussion – but they haven’t.
The industry needs to talk about what the future might hold, but there’s been no meaningful communication with the territorial government despite efforts by the industry, he said.
Rogers hosted a press conference this morning to describe what he called an industry in crisis.
A survey of tourism businesses in the Yukon indicated a third of the businesses will fold in the next six months, he said.
Rogers said businesses are hanging on by a thread.
He’s talked to operators who are losing their homes, who are losing their businesses.
“This has been a catastrophic year for tourism,” Blake said. “This is an unprecedented crisis we are in.
“We are looking at potentially a complete collapse of the industry.”
Blake said Yukoners should think about what the territory would look like without the tourism industry, because it’s actually happening.
Tourism operators are the ones who greet the visitors, who roll out the red carpet, who sell the beauty of the territory.
The tourism industry accounted for five per cent of the territory’s Gross Domestic Product in 2019, generating $468 million for the local economy, he said.
Blake said the pandemic has hit the industry like a tonne of bricks, and nobody is getting spared – not the smaller operators nor the bigger ones.
“What does the Yukon look like without tourism, because that is the path we are on right now, that is the trajectory we are on if we do not do anything.”
Blake said national statistics are showing tourism businesses have lost 50 to 80 per cent of their revenue, and in the Yukon, it’s probably closer to 80 per cent.
“If we continue on the path we are on right now, we are looking at a total collapse.”
The industry is feeling like it’s not being heard, he said, adding it’s like being put on hold when you call 911.
The industry needs meaningful communication with the premier and his cabinet – but there hasn’t been any, he said.
Blake said they need some answers about the future will bring, or what it could bring.
The only thing they know about the border closure is what they hear through the media, he said.
Blake said for many businesses, the summer is their bread and butter that keeps the lights on through the winter.
They don’t know what the winter will bring, he said.
Operators, he said, want to know if there are any options that could be explored, such as the provisions the big game outfitting industry has been able to negotiate.
Their clients arrive in Whitehorse and are immediately transported out to their big game camps, where they self-isolate one-on-one with outfitting staff, he explained.
Blake said operators are wondering if they could look at something similar but they don’t know because there’s nobody to talk to about it.
They need the territorial cabinet to come to the table; they need at least quarterly meetings with the premier and his ministers, and they need bureaucrats to be onside.
If there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, then operators may need further financial assistance to get through this, he said.
The financial help government has provided to the entire business community has been a blessing so far, and many tourism businesses wouldn’t be afloat today without them, he said.
Blake emphasized operators don’t want to live on government assistance.
What they want to be able to do is explore ways to reopen safely, he said.
Blake said from the outset of the pandemic, TIA was in full support of the border closure because it was in the best interest of the health and safety of Yukoners.
The health and safety of Yukoners is still foremost with the industry association, but operators are wondering if there are ways to maintain that security while providing some business opportunities, he said.
Blake said they need to have that conversation, at the very least.
TIA’s executive director provided several letters written to the government.
There’s still been no response to a letter written Aug. 24 by Neil Hartling, the association’s chair, to Silver, Tourism and Culture Minister Jeanie Dendys and Dr. Brendan Hanley, the territory’s chief
medical officer of health, he said.
He said the association needs the support of all the political parties.
“We need a financial commitment if we do not have border openings because we are literally strangling every tourism business in the Yukon,” he said.
“We need to get real; we need government to get real; we need bureaucrats to get real because this is real.”