Tourism, arts vital to Nunavut economy, trade show speakers say

The importance of tourism and the arts in Nunavut – and how to build them – was the discussion at the launch of Wednesday’s Nunavut Trade Show.

“There are so many opportunities for tourism providers,” said Kevin Kelly, CEO of Travel Nunavut.

The two-day Nunavut Trade Show and Conference opened at the Arctic Winter Games Arena and Aqsarniit Hotel. This is the first time since the pandemic began in spring 2020 that it will be conducted in person. Trade stands on the ground include various departments of the Nunavut government, Inuit organizations like Makigiaqta, and private sector companies like Canadian North.

In a room set apart from the fair, speakers including Kelly, Thor Simonsen from Nunavut record label Hitmakerz and Kathleen Nicholls from the Nunavut government discussed the infrastructure needed to support tourism and the arts in the region.

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When it comes to an economic recovery from COVID-19, tourism is important, Kelly said.

The industry offers 1,500 full-time and part-time positions across Nunavut, so ensuring it recovers from the impact of the pandemic and continues to grow is vital.

To emphasize the impact of COVID-19 on this, Kelly pointed to information from the Nunavut government showing that in 2020 there were approximately 359,000 passenger movements or people flying either to or within Nunavut.

That was a drop of about 25 percent from the 480,000 pre-pandemic in 2019.

This sharp drop would have hit everything from hotel operators to retailers, food vendors and charter companies.

For the industry to recover, travel needs to become easier, Kelly said.

He gave the example of providing credit card processing for tourists willing to spend money on art.

“What we need to do as an industry and as a territory is help our artists achieve that [credit card] technology,” Kelly said.

More infrastructure is also needed for Nunavut’s music scene, said Simonsen, CEO of Hitmakerz.

Setting up bank accounts, for example, is a task that should be easy – except for Nunavut artists, this is not the case as some communities do not have good internet access.

“We want to give these opportunities to people who don’t have them,” Simonsen said of creating jobs in the music business.

“We want to close this gap”

Nicholls, a consultant for GN’s tourism and cultural industries, said the artworks created in Nunavut are also of incredible value.

With about 7,800 artists on the territory, Nunavut has more artists per capita than anywhere else in Canada, she said.

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Nicholls said that 10 percent of Canadian art sold internationally is by Nunavut artists — which is extraordinary considering the territory’s population is only one-tenth of one percent of Canada’s total population.

She said art sold specifically by Nunavut Inuit artists contributes $15 million to Canada’s gross domestic product annually.

But to ensure artists thrive, they need proper support, Nicholls said.

“If we don’t take care of our artists, we don’t have anything to monetize,” she said.

As an example, she said artists need to be able to get their work out there and sell it at a satisfactory price.

Administrative support for tasks like processing payments, applying for grants or setting up a website is also critical to supporting artists, Nicholls said.

The fair continues on Thursday, when the exhibition space in the arena is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m

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