February 29, 2008

Canada Town’s Economy Boosted by Northern Lights Tourism

Throngs of people have gathered in the northern mining center of Yellowknife in hopes of catching a glimpse of an aurora borealis.

The town of roughly 20,000 has become a hot spot for tourists who come to see the Northern Lights. In response, the community's economy has begun to develop around the event which occurs during the prime winter viewing months.

The city's proximity to the "aurora oval" has bred a cottage industry aimed at housing the estimated 6,000 visitors each year.

In order to keep up with demand, Air Canada has begun to offer a direct flight from its Asian travel hub of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Japanese travelers dominate the area during the event.

Some Japanese interest is driven by the idea that conceiving a child beneath the lights will bring good luck.

At night, the tourists gather at a viewing spot about 20 miles outside of town where they are given a short presentation in Japanese about the lights.

The aurora borealis, which usually appears as green and red sheets of light, is caused by a collision of solar-charged protons and electrons with the earth's upper atmosphere.

"We learn about them in school, so we come here," said one Maho, a traveler from Vancouver who said she will spend three nights at the site hoping to see the Northern Lights.

"It's like during the fall season, many Japanese flock to Quebec and Ontario for the changing of colors on the leaves," Hideo Nagatani, manager of local operator Aurora Village said.

"Where there is something very spectacular, they will travel around the world to really see it."