18.5 Trends in eco-tourism

This indicator tracks the number of tourists visiting the NWT each year, the amount of money they spend while visiting and their primary reason for visiting.

Every year until 2010 and then every four years thereafter, the GNWT conducts a Visitor Exit Survey to better understand why non-NWT residents visit the NWT1. Annual surveys at airports, self-administered surveys for anglers, hunters and outdoor adventurers, license plate counts and trip diaries are used to track travelers to the NWT. Visitor tally counts at visitor centres, campgrounds, fishing and hunting licenses and permits are also used as indicators of trends in visitor volumes. The next survey results will be available in 2017.

NWT Focus

Interest in visiting the NWT is based on a healthy, functioning natural environment. Most visitors come to the NWT to experience its natural environment or to enjoy experiences that can only be enjoyed in outdoor settings. Tracking outdoor activities can help managers know wif recreational areas and facilities are adequate and how the GNWT can safeguard the environment from unintentional degradation.

Current view: status and trend

The main considerations for making travel decisions by visitors to the NWT in 2010-2011 were the NWT’s ‘outstanding scenery, viewing wildlife and parks and wilderness areas’1. The attraction value of these features contributes to the local economy. In 2010-2011, 40, 000 leisure visitors spent a total of $47 million in the NWT. Leisure visitors are visitors who did not report they were in the NWT for business reasons.

Total leisure visitors vs. total spending (millions)

Number of leisure visitors to the NWT1.

Number of visitors

Number of leisure visitors to the NWT according to visitor segment (fishing, hunting, general touring, outdoor adventure, aurora viewing), for 2000-20111.

The number of people coming to the NWT to hunt has declined to less than 500 visits in 2010-2011. Most hunters come to the NWT harvest barren-ground caribou. While the quality of hunting and fishing opportunities in the NWT has not changed, resource issues have created uncertainty in the hunting market resulting in reduced bookings for many of the sports hunt outfitters. A reduction in the availability of barren-ground caribou tags for sports hunts in 2008 and a 2010 ban  on commercial harvest of caribou in the barrenlands (Southern Arctic) were necessary to help conserve the rapidly declining caribou herds (ENR 2011).

The ban on the import of polar bear hides into the United States has also contributed to a cloudy future for this industry sector. Hunters spend on average six to ten times more (about $9,500) per trip than other visitors ($900-$1,500). The total number of visitors to the NWT has remained relatively constant in the past decade but the total spending is decreasing due to declines in the hunter segment, It is replaced, in part, by a general touring segment.

The number of anglers purchasing angling lodge packages in the NWT has been declining by around 1% per year since 2000-2001. This reflects a general decline in consumptive tourism, perhaps due to changing social pressures and increased interest in a variety of non-consumptive activities. In addition, older angers are leaving this market faster than they are being replaced by new, enthusiastic anglers.

Aurora travel (primarily by Japanese and other international tourists) decreased substantially following the events around 9/11 and SARS. This type of tourism had recovered slightly but then declined again in recent years mostly due to economic difficulties in Japan and globally. Other non-consumptive tourism to the NWT increased after 9/11 as North American travelers chose destinations closer to home. This is reflected in the increase in both general touring and outdoor adventure travel1.

Looking forward

Non-consumptive tourism is the category most likely to increase in the NWT(1). Outdoor adventure is a category of tourism that is growing internationally. In addition, as intact wilderness becomes less common in other locations, the NWT may become an even more attractive ecotourism destination for people outside of the NWT and Canada. Many factors, such as the economy, fuel prices and international events, can influence holiday travel and makes it difficult to predict future trends. However, NWT’s appeal as a tourist destination will continue to depend on its vast, wilderness environment showcasing its clean air and water, healthy wildlife, vibrant cultures and unique natural features.

Looking around

International travel to Canada has been variable in recent years, while the number of Canadians choosing to travel inside of Canada has increased (1). Most people who visit the NWT indicate that they did not have an ‘alternate destination’ in mind. People who were considering different destinations most often mention Alaska, the Yukon, and British Columbia as alternative vacation options2.

Find more

Other focal points


Found an error or have a question? Contact the team at NWTSOER@gov.nt.ca.


Ref 1 - Tourism 2015: New Directions for a Spectacular Future.  

Ref 2 - 2007. Northwest Territories 2006 Visitor Exit Survey Summary Report

Ref 3 - Northwest Territories Visitor Exit Survey Summary Reports. Current. Industry Tourism and Investment (GNWT)