I write this post with such a heavy heart. This afternoon, GoSarvaq, a new airline that was offering affordable flights between Iqaluit and Ottawa or Halifax, announced it has had to shut down its operations two weeks before they were scheduled to start flying.
GoSarvaq launched in April with an introductory fare of $499 between Iqaluit and Ottawa or Halifax. After a public survey, Sarvaq announced that this special pricing was going to be their de facto pricing, meaning Iqalummiut (and Ottawamiut and Halifaxmiut) would have an option to travel that cost less than half of the competitors' standard rates.
Unfortunately, GoSarvaq was faced with an unpredictable predicament: the two major airlines began offering seat sales rates as low as $299 one way between Iqaluit and Ottawa. Undercut and unable to gain enough volume, GoSarvaq pulled the plug on their service - and any sense of competition in the local airline industry.
Frustration moved quickly through social media channels, as Iqalummiut reacted to GoSarvaq's announcements. Many started by pointing out the obvious: Nunavut airfare is dictated by a monopoly.
Some expressed frustration not only with competing airlines, but consumers themselves, who chose to buy the cheaper seat sale prices, rather than GoSarvaq's standard affordable fare.
Amidst the anger and bitterness, Iqalummiut also extended their thanks, sympathy, and consolation to GoSarvaq.
Others predicted the worst.
The worst being, status quo.
Running a small business, startup, or not-for-profit in Nunavut is not easy. GoSarvaq has proven this in real-time. Here we had a truly Inuit-owned company, headquartered in Nunavut, staffed by local employees, with a strong business plan and all the heart and soul it requires to get a business off the ground - and they couldn't takeoff.
For what it's worth, my experience with GoSarvaq has been a pleasure. After attempting to book flights online and getting errors, I reached out to Brian Tattuinee at GoSarvaq and within a few days, he personally called me to secure seats to Halifax for myself, Justin, and Heffley the dog. Brian went out of his way, calling after work hours on two occasions. That type of customer service should be recognized. I only wish I had said so earlier, though I don't think my little endorsement would have held up against the powers that be.
So, what can we do about this? Well, if you agree with the sentiments presented above, you can send an official complaint to the Competition Bureau via this form, as GoSarvaq suggested. Like the fate of GoSarvaq itself, these complaints only stand a chance of affecting change if enough people participate.
In a more tangible way, what we can do as Iqalummiut is look around us and notice the small businesses and local organizations that are trying to make it in this tough, tough market. Shop local, if you can, even if it costs a little bit more. Put your money where your house is, and show the rest of the world that you believe in Nunavut - even if the odds are against the lot of us.