Yellowknife has been seeing an influx of Chinese tourists of late.
At least 1,967 tourists from China – 636 from mainland China, 909 from Hong Kong and 422 from Taiwan – have visited the city this month, according to the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre. And those are only the people they’ve recorded coming through their doors.
Compared to the 1,615 tourists from Japan and 349 from the United States, it’s clear Chinese tourism is dominating in the North.
“What we’ve seen is an emergence of new companies who are specifically targeting that market,” said Elijah Forget, communications director at the visitors centre.
“We’ve seen quite a few new tourism countries open up which specifically boast staff who can speak Cantonese and Mandarin.”
The boom of tourism came after Canada was granted Approved Destination Status (ADS) in 2010. Since then, Yellowknife has been a hub for tourists from China.
According to Forget, their main draw is the northern lights.
“It’s become less expensive and more convenient to travel to Yellowknife,” Forget explained. “We’ve become a very convenient location for people seeking to see the aurora.”
In 2014-2015, aurora viewers made up the top percentage of tourists in the territory, bringing in 16,400 visitors and $26.8 million in spending.
Yellowknife’s geography and location makes it ideally situated to see the aurora borealis the brightest in the North, but Forget says that might not be for much longer.
“I am cautiously optimistic (about tourism numbers from China going up),” said Forget.
“I would like to predict the numbers going up, however we are aware that we are reaching the downturn of the solar cycle which determines the strength and frequency of the aurora borealis.”
The sun goes through cycles of increased and decreased solar activity, and that affects how clear they appear in the sky.
But the tourists Forget has seen from China are well-informed about the science behind the aurora, he says, and he hopes this knowledge will keep tourists eager to travel to the North.
“They’re conscious of this cycle as well,” Forget explained. “There is a concern that (tourism) might (go down) but we don’t really know.”
What Forget does know is that package vacation deals have been helping draw aurora tourism to Yellowknife.
“A lot of visitors from Asia will visit multiple locations in Canada,” said Forget.
“They’ll go to Banff, they’ll go to Vancouver, they’ll go to Niagara Falls and they can kind of have these packages and tour Canada in a week … which always try to include Yellowknife as an option because of, again, the aurora.”
Destination Canada estimates Canada has had 356,740 visitors from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan between January and June of this year – a boost of over 50,000 tourists compared to 2015.