“There were lots of ‘ah-ha’ moments.”

Yellowknife’s annual three-day conference for tourist operators began on Tuesday with an insight into how Chinese tourists see the territory and what they want from their trip.

For Cathie Bolstad, executive director of conference host NWT Tourism, the five sessions offered an important perspective as numbers of Chinese visitors grow.

“Our goal has been to give people a real opportunity to learn about an Asian market that’s different from one we’re used to hosting in the NWT,” said Bolstad, whose organization previously focused on Japanese tourism.

“The tone has been enlightenment. A lot of people have experience hosting the Chinese, but they got some great explanations today about why they see some of the activities and reactions to the way we provide services, through the eyes and the lens of people living in China.

“We had multiple requests for this from members who were seeing more Chinese customers but not quite sure how to handle them. An example is that they want to barter, and we don’t barter here – so how do you deal with that?”

Aurora capital

The conference, which ends with NWT Tourism’s annual general meeting on Thursday, brings together bed-and-breakfast operators, hoteliers, restaurant owners, tour operators and government tourism staff.

Alongside work within the territory, Bolstad has spent time developing ties with travel agencies in China.

“I met almost a hundred travel agencies with our marketing director in China two weeks ago,” she told Moose FM.

“We started with the first question: ‘Have you heard of the Northwest Territories?’ Almost all of them knew we were the aurora capital of the world, and that’s great news.”

Bolstad says the NWT remains at the “tip of the iceberg” with the Chinese market. On Wednesday conference delegates will hear about initiatives in Germany and Japan, while the territory is expanding its efforts in Australia and Korea.