Monday, September 2

In the Northwest Territories, even domestic tourists are long-haul

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Photo: Northwest Territories Tourism

With the Japanese market down these days, it is not surprising that Northwest Territories Tourism (NWT) director of marketing Ron Ostrom is looking elsewhere for growth. He finds solace that demand for outdoor adventures from German-speaking Europe is going strong, but the largest number of people coming to the NWT continues to be from Canada, followed by travellers from the US, Japan and Germany.

“In Canada, people come from Alberta, British Columbia and then Ontario,” Ostrum points out, while hinting at a renewed interest in the North as a result of the 2007 Canada Winter Games held in Whitehorse (a collaboration between Nunavut, the NWT and Yukon), which generated huge media exposure. “Border traffic was up this year for the first time in a while; people are actually driving up and checking things out. Our outdoor adventure market is definitely growing here as well. Because everything is long-haul coming here, the average visitor stay is usually a week. It may vary for business travellers,” he points out. “They make up a valuable segment of the industry, even if much of that is just the hotel stays. We are working harder to get people to stay longer and do more things.”

Ostrom says many visitors to the NWT often fly into Yukon, rent a vehicle and drive the Dempster highway to Inuvik. “It is a really big draw for us. Once they are here, Nahanni National Park and Fort Simpson have much appeal. Hay River is another popular destination, as is Wood Buffalo National Park on the south side of Great Slave Lake.”

Tourism is fast evolving in the NWT, according to Ostrom. “This past year was down a little, but overall it is growing. $100 million comes into the tourism industry here each year, which is considerable given our population of only 40,000 people. Budgets are increasing for marketing and tourism product development; there is a lot going on, but obviously - because we have diamond mining and oil and gas - the industry is still not a top priority.”

Outdoor adventure and business markets have the greatest potential, he says. “Aurora tourism is well suited for the domestic market, and it is starting to expand now to North America.” Ostrom is concentrating marketing efforts especially in Alberta.

Northwest Territories Tourism is putting greater emphasis on high yield markets, he explains, “because of the cost of vacations up here. We have been going after the wealthy boomers and the active escapist market in some key geographic pockets in Toronto, Los Angeles and New York.”

Not surprisingly, this coincides with some of the Canadian Tourism Commission targets. “We are coming in after the CTC campaigns to capitalize on some of the exposure the CTC is already getting, but we develop our own print and web advertising.”

Saskatchewan's Regional Park Model Provides Food for Thought

Having spent a significant portion of my summer at Dunnet Regional Park just south of Avonlea, I realized how significant this resource is for the surrounding communities. It turns out the park means a lot for area residents who use it to capacity summer after summer.

The co-managed regional parks require the collaboration of local municipalities and provincial authorities to provide camping, resource stewardship and revenue-generating mechanism that will ensure their sustainability for future generations.

Essentially, regional parks are economically socially and environtally responsible operations. They benefit local residents by providing them a place of leisure, they certainly at prevent harming the environment in the sense that the intensity of their use is monitored by authorities. There are now recycling programs in place in many locations. And, the parts create summer jobs for local residents. That works too.

Travel Trade: Revisit how you approach the Youth Market

(Originally published in TOURISM)

Martin Cash of the Winnipeg Free Press writes: "The first clue that you're not cool is when you try to tell young prospective customers that you or your product is cool," and "The next clue is when you try to figure out what's not cool about it."

Cash's article (Don't say it's cool; ask them) refers to an address by Doyle Buehler, founder of Winnipeg's myTEGO Inc, given at a meeting of the Advertising Association of Winnipeg. He says many companies have to throw out what they thought they knew about marketing and go for an emotional approach: "You have to immerse yourself in the youth culture. Get them to describe your product or your service. Listen to what they have to say about your company." Buehler stresses that young people are not impressed by who you are or where you're coming from; they care about how your product will affect them.

Ogema's Sala Italia: Gastronomical Discovery in Rural Saskatchewan

My family came across a rather unexpected discovery this summer while travelling to Ogema in Southeastern Saskatchewan. Sala Italia opened up on August 3, 2013. They are not quite listed on the town's website, yet. They had just opened when my wife and I stopped in to check it out. The owners are a local couple with quite the history. He is originally from Italy and she was raised locally, lived in Italy for three years, learned Italian and fell in love with the person who would become her business partner. What a team!

They acquired an old quonset building. Her father being a drywaller, did a fantastic remodelling job. Perhaps I should tell you what they offer. They make lovely italian sausages using lamb or pork casings. We ended up coming home with four kilos of of fresh truffle oil & fennel sausage. When we showed up, they offered us a freshly-ground cup of Italian coffee -- which they import -- while they prepared our order.  When we got home, I believe we were the only family in Regina eating this fresh an Italian sausage that night... unless someone else makes them too.

Their plans are to start offering them to a few of Regina's finer restaurants in the near future. They also hope to start offering take-out Italian pizzas as well. Pizzas with fewer toppings perhaps, but with truly flavorful themes. We anticipate being back in Ogema for these in the very near future.

Hospitality with character in Igloolik, Nunavut

Elijah Evaluarjuk proudly displays the narwhal tusk his son gave him, from an animal he hunted.
Anyone who has spent quality time in Canada’s Arctic will appreciate the challenges of running a hotel in a remote setting. It takes determination, and Elijah Evaluarjuk has loads of it. He is the owner of the Tujurmivik Hotel in Igloolik, Nunavut.

“Tujurmivik means 'a place to stay' in Inuktitut,” he explains. “My father started the hotel in 1970 and I started helping him out. He served four terms as an MLA with the Legislature in the NWT days. He needed somebody to take care of the hotel, so in 1985, I quit my job with the municipal government and went to work for him.”

What Elijah didn’t expect was that his father would pass away prematurely in 2002. Suddenly, Elijah found himself in the driver’s seat.

“Cost is a very big thing here. We don’t have roads like in southern Canada. We get our produce by air. Every week we order from a supplier near Montréal. You have to plan ahead. We try to get most of our supplies like dry and canned goods on Sealift, a ship that comes once a year. We make sure that as much of the everyday supplies we need are ordered through that service; enough to last us the whole year.”

I met Elijah at the Aboriginal Tourism Canada Conference in Québec City earlier this year. He is a quiet, friendly man with a generous nature. The way he wears his handcrafted sealskin tie says lots about how he values his Inuit heritage. He is not alone: 95% of Igloolik’s 1600 residents speak Inuktitut. The town is located on a small island just off the Melville Peninsula, to the west of Baffin Island. Igloolik means "a place with houses", probably because of the sod houses Elijah’s ancestors used to build there. “Igloolik is probably one of the oldest communities in Nunavut, dating back 4,000 years,” he proudly claims.

Not surprisingly, the Tujurmikik Hotel had humble beginnings. Elijah recalls: “There were these two old hostel buildings. One was a cookhouse; the other was just rooms with honey buckets (5‑gallon pails with a toilet seat, common in the arctic to this day). We didn’t have flush toilets. We started renovating the place; there are 8 rooms in the hotel now so we can take 15 people all at once. There is a dining room and a nice lounge where our guests can watch TV. We try to make it home away from home.

“We hung these old black and white photos I had from the early 20th century in each room. There is a big Ulu (a women’s knife) hanging on the wall in the dining room. It is a king‑sized one made out of tin. In December, narwhal come close by (about 25 miles north from here) and there are many carved narwhal tusks around. I bought a tusk and I’m going to hang it on the wall so people can see it.”

When the Nunavut government was created in 1999 (the territorial boundaries were set in 1993), and Iqaluit established as the capital, it was decided that instead of having just one location for government offices, they should be decentralized. This is how Igloolik came to be one of the 10 communities where government offices are located, explains Elijah. “We have 5 or 6 departments in Igloolik. But our biggest market is construction workers, usually in the fall. We bring in trades people like electricians and plumbers. Many will stay in our hotel from the beginning of September until Christmas. Plus, we get a lot of government guests and sports hunters (for walrus and polar bear in the spring).

“I have 8 people on my staff. One of my cousins is our chef. My brother works part time here, as does my 12‑year‑old daughter during the summer. I let her work for three hours a week to get the experience. That is how I started in the business when I was 13 years old. I was mopping the floor. I have five kids ranging in age from 5 to 18 years old (3 boys and 2 girls) and 3 of them are adopted. Part of our tradition is to adopt children from relatives; two of my adopted ones are from my sister and one of our daughters is adopted from my wife’s side of the family. It doesn’t have to be from our relatives, but it happens a lot.”

Elijah Evaluarjuk says many people from other Arctic communities look up to Igloolik for the way it is preserving its language and culture. Just call the hotel and you will be greeted in Inuktitut. Elijah is hoping to capitalize on that heritage more and more.

“There are many talented artists and good carvers here. We could develop more tourism products. We have such wildlife, and waters are close by. That is why a long time ago people came to settle here; it was easy living off the land. When guests who come here for business want to stay a little longer, we take them out for day trips to different sites, either by snowmobile or dog sled.”

Finding a local outfitter may involve a little creativity: “When sports hunters come in, sometimes an announcement is made at the local radio station. Anybody who wants to do some guiding or take a dog team out is invited to come forward. From the list of those who answer, suppliers are selected to take them out. Starting in April, we can take people out to the floe edge in 30 to 45 minutes—this is where the water stays open all year around—to wait for the seals to come up. We can use snowmobiles until the middle of June. And then, the snow gets in again at the end of September or at the beginning of October.”

After a day out on the land, guests are invited to sample some of the local treats: “We can serve walrus or seal meat. We wouldn’t necessarily cook it at the hotel, but we can make that available upon request. Our dining room is only open for our guests, but every Friday we are open to the public for breakfast. And just last year, we started pizza delivery in town and that is going over very well.”

Not just any ordinary pizza; arctic char pizza. You see, for the longest time the Tujurmivik Hotel was the only game in town, until a few years ago when the local Co‑op also opened a hotel.

“There are now two hotels in town. What makes a difference for us when it comes to marketing is word‑of‑mouth. We have clients that have stayed with us (since) 25‑30 years ago. They always stay with us regardless of whether there is another hotel in town. I just did a lot of work last summer fixing up the rooms, new paint job, new carpet. I think my father would be happy to see how we are keeping the hotel running.”

There is comfort in knowing that even north of the 69th, success in the hospitality sector still hinges on an operator’s ability to seize new market opportunities without losing sight of the business’ root values. There are a few wisdoms worth exploring at Igloolik’s Tujurmivik Hotel.