Whitehorse’s canoe and kayak rental companies are shifting their focus to the local market for a summer without tourists

Compared to some other parts of the country and the world, things are looking pretty good for the Yukon this summer. While COVID restrictions and gathering limits are still in place, there’s still a lot to do, and getting outside for recreational activities is one of the best things Yukoners should be taking advantage of this summer.

But for companies like Kanoe People, Up North Adventures and Yukon Wide Adventures, border closures can spell out uncertainty for their businesses. Summer recreation in the Yukon relies heavily on the tourism industry, and without tourists being able to visit the territory, the owners of these businesses must turn their focus towards locals, and hope that there will be enough interest to keep them afloat.

Scott McDougall
owns and operates Kanoe People

“Tourism is looking pretty bleak,” said Scott McDougall, who owns and operates Kanoe People. “There’s not any positive hope there of even having B.C., which was a big help last year. So, we have to kind of rethink what we do with our rentals and focus more on our local clientele.”

However, McDougall said the support from the local market has been incredible so far, and his season has started off with a bang, which was a pleasant surprise. In focusing more on the local market, Kanoe People will be offering half-day local guided trips, with the hope that people will get confident enough to go out and explore on their own afterwards. Mark Stenzig, who owns Up North Adventures has had a similar experience, as his company is selling canoes and kayaks to locals on a regular basis already.
“We’re seeing a very strong uptake with the local market spending money locally,” he said. Up North Adventures will be operating on its regular hours through the summer, open six days a week.

Thomas de Jager is the owner of Yukon Wide Adventures. He said he is less optimistic about locals buying canoes and kayaks, because so many people have them already, or can just borrow from friends. He has also noticed that locals are not as interested in guided tours, and groups from Ontario, Quebec and other places will not be making it up this year, giving him no reason to sink his time and energy into trying to make the tours happen. Instead, he is looking to other streams of income to get by this summer, including ATV and quad rentals, and his usual gig supplying race boats to the River Quest.
“Luckily, compared to most of the other tourism businesses, we don’t rely 100 per cent on tourists,” said de Jager.

The River Quest has been won with de Jager’s boats for the last four years, making Yukon Wide Adventures the go-to for race boats in the Yukon. While this year’s River Quest will be a smaller affair than usual, without national and international teams coming up to compete, supplying boats to the local racer will still be a big contract for Yukon Wide Adventures.
“I invested lots of money in high-end race boats which are built in Estonia and Europe,” de Jager explained, adding that he also ships the boats nationally for racers to use for training.

The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce’s new Buy Local Program encourages Whitehorse residents to spend their money on local businesses, as they need the support now more than ever. Stenzig said Up North Adventures has seen tremendous benefits from locals show support the initiative and make an effort to buy from businesses like his.

Additionally, the shutdown of the tourism industry goes two ways. Stenzig said that while tourists won’t be able to come to the Yukon, Yukoners also won’t be able to fly to other parts of the country or the world to visit family or take summer vacations, creating an opportunity for businesses like his to capitalize on the fact that most everybody will be around all summer and itching to get out and do things.
“People are wanting to get out on the water and enjoy what the Yukon has to offer,” Stenzig said, “which is a lot.”

McDougall echoed a similar sentiment, saying he has noticed an increased desire amongst Yukoners to explore the territory this summer, especially with their typical vacation and travel budgets collecting dust.
“We live in such a beautiful part of the world,” he said. “A lot of locals are discovering their own Yukon—their own backyard. They’re getting out and doing things they’ve never done and going places they’ve never been.”
For more information on these three local businesses, visit their websites at kanoepeople.com, upnorthadventures.com and yukonwide.com.