Local tourism businesses uncertain but hopeful as Nunavut eases travel restrictions

Tourism operators say changes to travel restrictions in Nunavut are a step in the right direction but won’t bring business back to pre-COVID-19 levels right away. 

On Monday, health officials announced that travellers who are fully-vaccinated against COVID-19 and bound for Nunavut will no longer have to self-isolate upon arrival. 

The measure will take effect on June 14 and will apply to people who received their final dose of any Health Canada-approved vaccine at least two weeks prior to travel. 

Still ‘early days,’ tour operator says

Graham Dickson is the founder and president of Arctic Kingdom, an Iqaluit-based tourism company that offers land-based tours in the territory. When COVID-19 hit, many of his tours were cancelled. 

According to Dickson, travel restrictions easing in the territory will help families reunite but will have little impact on tourism as federal borders remain closed and not everyone has received both doses of the vaccine. 

“Most people aren’t going to be vaccinated until either the end of the summer or the fall and so I think there may be a handful of people that could come up, but I think it’s still early days as far as the actual broader opening of tourism,” he said. 

Kevin Kelly, the CEO of Travel Nunavut, agreed, adding that tourists from the south of Canada haven’t reached high levels of vaccinations yet. 

Kevin Kelly, CEO of Travel Nunavut, says the future of local tourism in the territory remains uncertain because tourists from the south of Canada haven’t reached high levels of vaccinations yet. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)

The North boasts some of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country. According to the CBC’s vaccine tracker, 60 per cent of residents in the Yukon, 55.1 per cent in the N.W.T and 39.5 per cent in Nunavut had received two doses as of Tuesday. 

Vaccination rates in southern provinces are much lower, with only 8.7 per cent of Ontarians and 7.6 per cent of British Columbians having received both their doses. 

Authorization letter may also discourage visitors

The government requirement that people get an authorization letter to travel from Nunavut health officials will also discourage some people from visiting Nunavut, Dickson said. 

The government is currently only approving one person at a time and the letter will be required to board an aircraft. This is a logistical challenge for large tourist groups that usually come into the territory, especially on cruise ships, which are banned from coming to Canada till February next year. 

“The current system is two weeks in advance of individually approving people, and you can’t bring groups of people from all over the world when the borders remain closed,” Dickson said.

This may mean that more people will choose to travel out of the territory instead, with tourism businesses in Nunavut losing out on some local customers instead of gaining others, according to Louis-Philip Pothier, president of Inukpak Outfitting, another tourism company in Iqaluit. 

Inukpak Outfitting owners Martine Dupont, second from left, and Louis-Philip Pothier, last on the right, with their children. (Submitted by Martine Dupont)

“Last year, a lot of people couldn’t couldn’t travel outside of Nunavut or the two-week isolation was a real detriment so they ended up staying and having that pocket of money. They ended up taking quite a few excursions or mini expeditions with us, so we had an increase of local customers last year compared to regular years,” he said.

“… Now allowing those people to go south for their holiday makes us lose a little bit of [those] potential customers.” 

To combat these uncertainties and ensure that local tourism businesses in Nunavut continue on the path to recovery, Kelly said there needs to be support from the government. 

“Just because some of the restrictions are lifted doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet,” he said. “It’s just one more step on the way.”

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