Nunavut’s tourism operators roll out the red carpet for the super-rich
Luxury yachts, like the $200-million Octopus, a boon to local communities
As the summer sunshine begins to melt sea ice across the territory, tourism operators are looking to Nunavut’s waters to see what kind of luxury traffic it will bring in 2014.
Cruise ship spots are quickly filling, but many communities are looking more and more to smaller, private vessels to bring in their tourism dollars.
Many of Nunavut’s communities hope to get a visit from the Octopus this summer, the $200-million yacht from Seattle, Washington, owned by the co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, which is planning its third visit through Nunavut.
Forbes magazine estimates Allen’s net worth at $16 billion, and ranks him at number 56 on its list of the world’s top billionaires.
His luxury yacht is mapping out a voyage with about eight to 12 tourists — plus a crew of 65 — through the Northwest Passage this September. It hopes to make about a dozen stops, including Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay and Cambridge Bay.
Cambridge Baymiut know the vessel well — it stopped in the Kitikmeot community in both 2012 and 2013.
Each time, the vessel’s staff contacted local tourism operator Vicki Aitaok to organize a tour of the community.
“They were fabulous,” Aitaok said. “They came specifically to shop, so we were prepared for that.”
The group of about a dozen tourists spent $8,000 in the span of a few hours on char, rabbit mitts, wolverine furs and other crafts.
For local artisans and businesses, Aitaok called it “the best day ever.”
“It was a much more personal experience than with a cruise ship,” said Aitaok, who has organized tours for hundreds of visitors to Cambridge Bay. “We usually get four or five cruise ships every season, and they might have 165 passengers, but we found the yacht tourists spent more.”
Aitaok hasn’t yet been in touch with the Octopus crew, but expects to host the group again this September.
“It really is a welcome addition and we’d love to see more of the smaller ships coming through,” she said. “We really find the smaller ships, the people on them are 100 per cent involved in what they’re learning. And the whole community gets involved.”
That’s the best case scenario, said Colleen Dupuis, Nunavut Tourism’s chief executive officer.
“What we want to do is make sure the communities feel happy and involved with these visits,” Dupuis said.
“Most of the yacht traffic we’ve seen come through the territory has been amazing,” she said. “They often spend longer in the communities and try to work with local outfitters and businesses.”
Some yachts, however, don’t contact the communities in advance or avoid the regulation process and that can be a challenge for tourism operators, Dupuis said.
Other touring yachts have come under fire for not respecting local laws or wildlife, such as the Fortrus on its 2012 stop in Cambridge Bay.
That’s why Nunavut Tourism, along with the Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., is working towards the territory’s first cruise ship management plan, which will look at how to better track, manage and boost benefits from all vessel traffic through Nunavut’s waters.
Although there are no specific yacht visit statistics gathered for Nunavut, a 2013 report commissioned for Transport Canada recorded pleasure craft traffic through the Canadian Arctic starting from 1990.
Through the 1990s, no more than a handful of ships came through each year, although that number quickly picked up in the late 2000s.
But 2012, 25 ships were recorded travelling through the Canadian Arctic.
Arctic Bay saw seven yachts last year — one was the Octopus — and that’s a number the community hopes to grow.
“We are actively welcoming and pursuing yacht traffic,” said Clare Kines, the hamlet’s community economic development officer. “We are positioning ourselves as the best anchorage on the Northwest Passage and for yachts visiting the Arctic.”
Although Arctic Bay is a small community, it’s able to anchor vessels of all sizes at the nearby Nanisivik naval facility.
“We offer great anchorage, with little or no ice or current issues — in addition to our stunning scenery and the services we can provide,” Kines said.
While any ship has the right of free passage through Nunavut’s waters, the Octopus is currently winding its way through a permitting process that would allow it to visit a bird sanctuary and wildlife areas.
The Nunavut Impact Review Board said June 2 that the yacht’s 2014 project proposal was exempt from a re-screening process.
According to its itinerary, the Octopus will visit Pond Inlet Sept. 1, then head north to Arctic Bay with stops on Somerset and Prince Leopold Islands, and then to Radstock Bay and through to Resolute Bay.
Afterward, the vessel will head south towards King William Island en route to Cambridge Bay, where it’s expected to arrive Sept. 11.