Question re: Kluane tourism promotion - April 25, 2013

Mr. Silver: I have a question for the government about Holland America’s plans for the upcoming tourism season and beyond.

It is my understanding that the company plans to scale back or altogether cut bus tours that go through the Kluane region beginning next summer. This change of plans will have a dramatic effect on the economy of the Kluane region, particularly the communities of Haines Junction and also of Beaver Creek.

Is the government aware of these potential changes? And what information has the government received from Holland America directly about their plans for tours on the north Alaska Highway?

Hon. Ms. Taylor: As a government, we cannot and will not comment or speculate on the operations of a private business until there has been a formal announcement by that business. What I can say, however, is the Department of Tourism and Culture and certainly all departments of the government have worked and we will continue to work hard to ensure that businesses have the opportunity to reach new and existing markets and to grow their customer base. We have seen good results over the years. Just last year alone, we saw a fourpercent increase in the overall visitation to the Yukon, so unlike other jurisdictions, we are doing what we can and we are performing well.

Mr. Silver: I do have questions about those statistics as well, but that’s for another date. The economic impact of the changes like this should not be underestimated. It means millions of dollars coming out of the north Alaska Highway economy. Another consequence of the change is the uncertain future of the Westmark Hotel in Beaver Creek. No tours may likely mean no hotel.

I’ve been given a couple of reasons for the changes from different people in Kluane. They range from the conditions of the highway to requests from Holland America clients for a different product to even just straightforward economics. They are not cutting back on the Yukon product, they’re just redirecting it. Regardless of the reasons behind the cuts, they certainly will have a big impact on the Kluane region.

What plans is the government developing to address the effects in the Kluane region of this substantial reduction in tourist traffic?

Hon. Ms. Taylor: We on this side of the Legislative Assembly will not comment or speculate on the operations of a private sector business. We will leave that up to Holland America and any other business to articulate their operating plans for the upcoming season. We remain committed to working with companies such as Holland America and many others to continue to grow the tourism industry.

Over the past decade plus, we have invested and will continue to invest in tourism infrastructure, in product development, in visitor services, and many marketing programs that we have been able to expand by millions over the past number of years. Clearly, we are seeing the net benefits, because we are seeing increased visitation to the Yukon, whether it’s through air access or the rubber-tire market. We are committed to working in collaboration with industry to ensure that our approach to tourism is integrated and that it does result in net benefits to Yukoners.

Mr. Silver: I appreciate the minister’s answer here.

Mr. Speaker, last fall, the government signed a marketing agreement with Holland America. There was no mention of these changes at that time. There was also no mention of these changes when we debated the Tourism budget recently. The department entered into a three-year marketing project with Holland America at $50,000 per year and I quote: “…to support joint efforts to promote cruise tour product, providing significant revenues and benefits to Yukon’s tourism industry.”

The government said, and I quote: “This three-year agreement will generate incremental new business for Yukon…”

It’s clear now this expenditure will not be generating a lot of revenue for the Kluane region. I understand that Holland America’s decision won’t necessarily mean fewer visitors to the Yukon, but they are redirecting to different destinations. Will the minister commit to additional marketing or infrastructure dollars for the Kluane region during this fall’s budget to update and —

Speaker: Order please. The member’s time has elapsed.

Hon. Ms. Taylor: I find the comments interesting coming from the MLA for Klondike, particularly as he makes reference to tourism cooperative marketing agreements with companies such as Holland America. Of course, I certainly commend the Minister of Tourism and Culture and the good work of the Department of Tourism and Culture in terms of collaborating with industry.

To be sure, the tourism cooperative marketing fund, to which we have dedicated $700,000 in this year’s budget and have in the last number of years, is also toward facilitating those additional cooperative marketing agreements. It’s unfortunate, however, that the Member for Klondike continues to vote against those expenditures. So unfortunately, the member opposite can say all he will in support of the tourism industry, but I would ask him to put his words into the vote.