Deep in Northwest Territories, this outdoor adventure business hopes to catch more international travellers while they’re young.
For many people, vacations are a necessity, a chance to disconnect from the frenzied pace of modern life. Yellow Dog Lodge, set in the natural splendour of the Northwest Territories, offers precisely that opportunity via fishing, kayaking, hiking or just relaxing in the Canadian wilderness.
This makes Yellow Dog a natural fit for the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC)’s Signature Experiences Collection® (SEC). The innovative program is opening eyes and doors in Canada and around the world. To tell its story better, CTC News is running a series of case studies letting Collection members tell their tourism-business stories in their own words. Here, Gord Gin, co-owner of Yellow Dog Lodge with his wife Kathy, gives the skinny on the challenges presented by the global economic depression and why youth represents the best chance for the future.
Previous SEC case studies:
Heartland International Travel & Tours
What got you started in the tourism business? And what inspired you?
I purchased the lodge back in 2005, though it had taken me a couple of years before that to put the business plan for it together. I’ve always been enamoured with outdoor adventure and fishing. The first time I went fishing with my father I was five years old. In 2005 it was now-or-never time. I had the financial means and the educational background, so I had to go for it.
What has taught you most in life?
Simply interacting with people: the clients that come to stay at the Lodge and my peers have given me a great education. In the tourism off-season I work in the pipeline industry with highly skilled top engineers, so I’m always listening and learning from them. On the tourism side, I’m now on the NWT tourism board and learning a great deal from my colleagues there, too.
What’s the biggest challenge facing your business today?
The economy. Traditionally, the majority of clients for the fishing-lodge business come from the US. With the American economy sinking, that revenue stream has reduced. So we’ve had to diversify into kayaking, hiking and environmental tours. We’re willing to try anything right now to keep the business moving forward. We’re making alliances with businesses in Germany and Switzerland as well as with other marketing partners to help promote the business. The work of NWT Tourism has been great, and they have some really good websites, but it doesn’t always translate into sales. I’m concerned that we are spending our marketing dollars in the right way. Marketing for the sake of marketing doesn’t do any good.
Have you worked with the CTC before?
Spring 2011 was the first time. I’ve usually just worked with the territorial government and private firms for marketing and promotional efforts.
Were you familiar with any of CTC’s toolkits prior to joining the Collection?
No. Awareness can sometimes be a little lacking in the Territories. It feels special here, that’s for sure, but sometimes it gets a little adversarial, a little “North versus South.” As I live in Cochrane, AB, a lot of the time and commute, I’m sometimes considered an outsider. I’d like to turn that around and show people here there are other things outside of the North. A lot of northern tourism is based on Aboriginal content and culture. However, northern outfitters are wary of losing their heritage, so they tend to be defensive when it comes to outsiders coming in to educate them in ways that they are not accustomed to.
Tell us more about the Lodge Life and Cultural Traditions experience in the Collection.
Lodge Life is a different kind of mindset. Once you get north of the 60th parallel, time seems to slow down. You’re not driven by the timepiece on your watch or on the wall. Instead, you’re close to nature, closer to your roots. Forget technology—people want to get out of the modern realm, forget their troubles and just look after themselves. Fishing is a big draw, but so is the opportunity to come here and spend time with friends and family. We’ve had a lot of guys come here for quality family time with their sons and grandsons. With little outside pressure on you, we also get presidents and vice-presidents of pretty big companies coming here to leave their BlackBerrys behind. Wildlife photography is special here, too: these senior executives don’t see moose and bears in their natural habitat while living in the big cities. There’s some great kayaking, and everyone seems to like the hiking. Visitors can find out about the region’s history and heritage.
What kind of travellers does your business attract?
We target primarily family travellers with small kids. Those senior executives with money to spend are moving away from the traditional vacation pursuits of hunting, fishing and photography, so the dollars are moving with them. Our philosophy is to get the young guys and girls. It may not pay off now, but in 30 years’ time a lot of them will come back.
What immediate benefits do you see for Yellow Dog Lodge through being a Collection member?
We’re looking forward to bigger exposure worldwide, not just the US and Canada. I’d like to see more visitors come during the Aurora shoulder season to experience fall up here.
Are you promoting your membership?
We’ve recently put the Collection badge on our website, but I think it may be a long sales cycle, so it’ll take years for it to really have a lasting impact. We’ve had several meetings with third-party service providers in Vancouver, BC, to help promote the Lodge globally elsewhere.
Are there specific international markets that you can see Yellow Dog Lodge gaining extra visitors through the Signature Experiences Collection®?
Germany and Japan are two markets we’re going to target. Our association with mining in Yellowknife should also make the Australia market a good one. Australians working with mining giants like BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto can be in NWT on three- or four-year contracts.