Written by Sam Laskaris
Local Press Initiative reporter
A prolonged recovery from the pandemic, possibly as long as a decade, is no longer expected for Canada’s Aboriginal tourism industry.
Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC), said last September that research indicated it would take until 2028 for the tourism industry to fully recover across the country.
At the time, Henry said it could already be 2030 before the Indigenous tourism sector fully recovers to pre-pandemic levels, due to it being disproportionately affected compared to other tour operators across the country.
Earlier this week, Henry was in much better spirits.
That’s because on Monday, January 10, the ITAC released its Strategic Plan 2022-25 titled Building Back Better.
Provided they can secure $65 million in funding over the next three years, ITAC officials now expect the Indigenous tourism industry to reach pre-pandemic levels by 2025, five years earlier than feared a few months ago.
“It’s not yet fully funded,” Henry said of ITAC’s planned recovery efforts. “We are working with the federal government to propose this recovery strategy.”
Founded in 2015, ITAC is a national non-profit organization for the Indigenous tourism industry. Its mission includes the development and promotion of the Aboriginal tourism industry throughout Canada.
Henry said ITAC delegates have met with various partners over the past four months. Those discussions contributed to the strategic plan released this week.
ITAC officials are now waiting to see how much federal funding they will receive in 2022. The federal budget is expected to be released in April.
Henry said Randy Poissonault, who was appointed tourism minister after last year’s federal election, attended a briefing with ITAC officials in Ottawa last month.
“He has been very supportive and understood the importance of the work ahead of us,” Henry said.
The latest ITAC strategic plan includes three main priorities:
Inspiring its members across the country to rebuild or refocus their business offerings through targeted business support, education and training
Take advantage of partnership and investment opportunities with local or regional tourism associations to maintain their membership and infrastructure
Strengthening ITAC as an advocate for Indigenous tourism operators and stabilizing funding through the federal government, partners, and members.
Henry believes Monday’s news will be inspiring to all Aboriginal tour operators across Canada.
“It’s a big boost for them,” he said. Hopefully two things will happen (on Monday). One is the feeling of not giving up. We are still very confident that the industry will rebound even though we have had or are facing a fifth wave.
“The second thing though is that we want to show that we can speed up the recovery.”
Before the pandemic reached Canada, Aboriginal tourism was skyrocketing.
The GDP of Indigenous tourism grew to about $1.9 billion in 2019, a significant increase from the GDP figure of $1.4 billion in 2014.
But since March 2020, when pandemic lockdowns began across the country, nearly 70 percent of Indigenous tourism’s GDP contributions have been lost.
The 2019 figures can be returned to 2025.
“We are very convinced of that now,” he said.
There are enough indications. Last summer, we had some regrowth very quickly. We were growing faster than the non-native tourism industry. We’ve seen very significant growth re-entering our segment. We haven’t prepared for 2019 levels but we know with the right investments in marketing we will be able to help recover very quickly.”
Again, this all depends, however, on whether ITAC will be able to secure all the necessary funding it believes it will require to make its strategic plans work.
Although the ITAC hopes that the federal government will provide the majority of the required funding, other sources are being sought as well.
ITAC received about $2.5 million in funding from Destination Canada in 2020 and a similar amount last year.
Destination Canada is a Crown company that promotes Canadian tourism efforts around the world.
Henry said the ITAC is now finalizing negotiations with Destination Canada on a five-year memorandum of understanding.
“We think that will complement the federal requests,” Henry said. “We just don’t know how long this will be yet.”
As in previous years, Henry said the ITAC continues to seek some funding from the private sector.
Sam Laskaris Local Press Initiative reporter who works from WINDSPEAKER.COM. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
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