Nunavut tourism could be billion-dollar business, industry says

By Livete Ataguyuk, Nunatsiaq News - December 7, 2023

Officials call growing sector to C$1 billion by 2030 ‘ambitious,’ look to federal government for support

Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut (Photo: Malayab23)

An “ambitious” goal to turn Nunavut travel and tourism into a billion-dollar industry by 2030 was the main focus of Travel Nunavut’s annual general meeting this week in Iqaluit.

The sector had an economic impact of C$400 million in 2019 — pre-pandemic — and employed 3,000 people, according to the marketing organizations’ strategic plan for the next seven years.

“My impression is that is there’s huge opportunities and they have a very ambitious plan of growing the industry here,” said federal Tourism Minister Soraya Martines Ferrada said in an interview Wednesday.

Travel Nunavut is a membership-based association that represents hotels, outfitters, airlines and artists. Of its 147 members, 77 are Inuit-owned businesses.

Ferrada was in Iqaluit to hold an open forum with tourism operators as part of Travel Nunavut’s three-day meeting. Much of the conversation revolved around challenges to meeting this goal, including transportation capacity.

“How do you bring people to the North and [make] that affordable to come up here?” she asked.

Airstrips and ports

Ferrada, who became Canada’s tourism minister over the summer, pledged to take the ideas about growing Nunavut’s tourism industry — especially improvements to transportation infrastructure — back to Ottawa where she can enlist other federal cabinet ministers to support tourism growth.

Specifically, that would be airstrip improvements and aid to northern airlines, said David Akeeagok, Nunavut’s minister of economic development and transportation, during the forum.

“We use government dollars to build airports and airstrips, and to maintain [them in] all 25 communities is a challenge when you have a C$16-million budget and, on top of that, you have to build new ones,” he said.

He acknowledged the federal government has partnered with the GN on several airport terminal improvement projects over the past eight years, but no money has flowed to airstrip improvements.

Bigger planes like Boeing 737s require a paved runway for landings and takeoffs.

There are two paved airstrips in Nunavut — one in Iqaluit and one in Rankin Inlet. According to Akeeagok, his department has no program specifically earmarked for airstrip paving.

“Money talks,” Akeeagok said, “and we don’t have money.”

Nunavut Travel CEO Kevin Kelly said his association is also working with the federal government to get support for other improvements, such as deepsea ports and small craft harbours.

Travel industry ‘poised to explode’: Travel Nunavut CEO

On top of infrastructure, Kelly said he wants to see more support for Inuit-owned travel businesses.

“That is what we want, we want the industry to be here and we want the story to be told by Inuit and that is where the biggest growth can happen,” he said.

The Inuit tourism industry is “poised to explode” said Kelly, noting there’s a lot of demand, partly from a travelling public that wants to experience what Inuit life is like.

“Whether that is in the art side, whether that is on the hunting side, meaning if somebody that comes here and goes out with, say, Peter and goes out seal hunting,” said Kelly.

“The industry is ripe and waiting for Inuit to really flourish and Travel Nunavut is there to help.”

Ferrada said she recognized the opportunity to involve Inuit in tourism but “in their own terms and their own rhythm.”

Inuit involvement in tourism would be both an “economic reconciliation driver” but also an “identity piece.”

“It’s an opportunity in a way that reconnects even youth to the Inuit traditions and how do we bring that youth in that pathway of reconciliation within tourism,” she said.

Nunatsiaq News is the newspaper of record for Nunavut and the Nunavik territory of Quebec. It has been published since 1973 and reaches 50,000 readers in 39 eastern Arctic communities each week through its website and weekly e-editions. Its editorial team offers credible, in-depth, award-winning journalism, drawing readers from northern and southern Canada and around the world. Nunatsiaq News is owned by Nortext Publishing Corp., which maintains offices in Iqaluit and Ottawa.