A job well done
NWT Tourism’s Cathie Bolstad
When Cathie Bolstad leaves her post as CEO of NWT Tourism in December after six years in that role, she’ll definitely leave with a lot of accomplishment to her credit.
Back in 2014, Bolstad established the NWT Conference Bureau, implementing a sales lead and bid tracking system to measure and report on the performance of the Bureau.
By the end of March 2020 – before COVID-19 shut down business events and conferences – NWT Tourism had pursued conference business valued cumulatively at $23,070,000 through the preparation and submission of conference proposals; with $7,654,000 million in conferences having already occurred as a result of the NWT Conference Bureau’s marketing and sales activities.
In 2015-2016, Bolstad developed a 5-year Marketing Strategy called “Towards A $235 Million Dollar Tourism Industry.”
That strategy has guided all of NWT Tourism’s annual marketing plans to stimulate growth of visitors and visitor spend in the Northwest Territories over the past five years.
She also led NWT Tourism’s participation in the development of pan-territorial Business, Market, Trade (BMT) Ready standards for the tourism industry, delivering accessible training tools for online and in-person training to these standards.
In 2017, Bolstad directed the development of NWT Tourism’s Secrets Campaign to coincide with Canada’s 150th anniversary, and the campaign was named an award finalist by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC).
In 2018, she led an NWT delegation to China as part of a federal trade mission, established a new Marketing & Sales Agent for the Chinese market while there and came home to implement the Alipay marketing/payment platforms in Yellowknife with the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, facilitating increased expenditure by Chinse visitors.
Bolstad also established an MOU with the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) to formalize marketing collaboration to enhance promotion of Indigenous tourism experiences.
And she established a General Sales Agent in Australia to support growth of this market for the NWT.
In 2019, Bolstad led an industry sales mission to Mexico connecting Northwest Territories Trade Ready tourism operators with OTA’s (online travel agents), Tour Operators and Wholesalers. The NWT team provided training to 58 agents in 12 businesses over 4 days, beginning the development of Mexico as a market for the NWT.
This year, she oversaw the establishment of a Triple R Framework to guide both the advocacy and marketing efforts of NWT Tourism, which is both the Destination Marketing Organization and the Tourism Industry Association for the NWT.
This framework will ensure the Relief, Recovery and Resilience for the tourism industry in the NWT as it navigates through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Support from partners
Under Bolstad’s leadership, NWT Tourism’s overall destination marketing budget grew from $3.2 million to $4.4 million (37.5% over six years) and marketing investments by industry partners grew 46% during the same period.
That growth clearly reflects the trust and confidence by NWT Tourism’s key partners, the GNWT and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (Cannor), in the project proposals put forward under Bolstad’s leadership and the value that industry members saw in the partnerships offered by NWT Tourism.
Bolstad is also proud at having established an NWT student scholarship program for students studying in post secondary programs related to tourism and hospitality. To date, eight scholarships, valued at $1500 each have been paid out since the program was established in 2014.
Today, there is a reserved Scholarship Fund valued at $31,600.00 and for the first time in 2020, the program was enhanced to include a new designated scholarship for NWT Indigenous students.
In any business, perhaps more so in the tourism, growth is the benchmark of success.
During Bolstad’s tenure, tourism visitation to the Northwest Territories had grown by 42% and visitor expenditure by 43% over the past five years and the trajectory for 2019 looked like the year would be another record setting one before things began to grind due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
NWT Tourism’s primary market is Canadians, and its international visitors come from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Germany and Australia. Guests from Asia Pacific typically come in winter for the Aurora, whereas Germans and North Americans are more likely to travel in summer months.
Japan has historically been the key market for aurora, but in recent years that market was overtaken by China.
Australia is a relatively new market for NWT Tourism and efforts to develop Mexico had only begun in late 2019.
What’s the attraction?
The Northwest Territories is the third-largest jurisdiction in Canada by area, but it has one of the smallest by population.
For those who live there and for those who visit it offers amazing skies, hundreds of lakes and rivers, towering mountains, vast plains, expansive ocean coastlines, and abundant wildlife – all of these are part of the Northwest Territories’ brand assets.
Its enormity, geographic diversity, northern location, authentic Indigenous cultures, and friendly people offer something extraordinary to visitors in a land that offers so many spectacular moments.
Anything but cold
While there may be some who think of the Northwest Territories as ‘cold’ and ‘remote,’ NWT Tourism does a lot to offset that image.
To start with, its marketing efforts encourage visitors to immerse themselves in a world of multi-sensory experiences that are surprising and rejuvenating.
It also works to inspire people to enjoy the wide-open spaces, open roads and spectacular landscapes that evoke a sense of calm.
And it always makes sure to point out that the people living in NWT are friendly, hospitable, generous and natural storytellers. Like the land they live in, Northerners can be quirky, honest, and full of surprises.
As she looks back on her time at NWT Tourism, Bolstad will tell you that she’s been fortunate to have worked with so many wonderful people in the tourism and hospitality industry in the NWT, in Canada and internationally.
In fact, she admits that she had to think really hard about whether she could proceed with her plan to depart NWT Tourism as she saw the impacts of COVID-19 unfold rapidly, impacting so many so hard.
However, she says her plan to depart in December was one she had put off a few times, so despite the pandemic, she is moving ahead with her plan.
But Bolstad makes it clear that “while COVID-19 has pulled the red carpet out from under the feet of a successful, growing tourism industry, the team at NWT Tourism is smart, passionate, has a solid plan for relief, recovery and resilience for the industry and they are flexible and resourceful.”
However, she makes it clear that the quality and character of the people and the organization combined with the necessity to work differently that COVID-19 has created, actually opens up an incredible opportunity for her team and a new leader to blaze a new trail for industry success.
Bolstad points out that a new leader will bring fresh ideas and new energy and those will be important ingredients for success to rebuild the tourism industry in the NWT.
Going forward, Bolstad says she has a few good books lined up to read, a quilt to make for her sister’s 60th birthday in December, two grandchildren to spend more time with – but she’s also got a few other plans in mind.
In fact, Bolstad sees a wonderful opportunity for First Nations to showcase more of their history, stories and culture as part of the Northwest Territories’ tourism recovery strategy, so, you might just find her working there next, so stay tuned.