A $2.25-million shot in the arm from the federal government is designed to expand the growing Aboriginal tourism sector, said the federal tourism minister.
Bardish Chagger, who was in Victoria to take part in the Impact Sustainability Travel and Tourism Conference, said the money will help ensure Aboriginal tourism can grow and sustain itself. “This is about Indigenous people supporting Indigenous business,” said Chagger. The money is to be handed out over three years to Aboriginal Tourism B.C.
“The Government of Canada takes that relationship seriously. It’s a priority for our government and this is how we will help grow on our commitment for reconciliation,” she said in an interview. “We want these communities to be sustainable, to be able to grow opportunities for future generations and this $2.25 million will make sure these businesses are market ready and are able to develop Aboriginal tourism and create capacity.”
The money is intended to support more than 400 Aboriginal cultural tourism businesses in B.C. by helping establish new products and marketing campaigns.
“Indigenous tourism experiences offer visitors from around the world a tremendous opportunity to learn more about the rich, proud cultural heritage of the original peoples of this land,” said Chagger. “It also helps create good jobs and new opportunities for Indigenous communities, from coast to coast to coast.”
The infusion of cash could spur along Aboriginal Tourism B.C.’s plan to see growth in excess of 10 per cent over the next few years, said chief executive Tracy Eyssens.
“We recognize there is a huge demand for authentic Aboriginal experiences and right now supply is not meeting that demand,” said Eyssens. “This helps us create that supply and engage with Aboriginal communities throughout B.C.”
While $2.25 million over three years is not a lot of money, Eyssens said they can leverage those dollars by partnering with other stakeholders and with regional destination marketing organizations and Destination B.C. Eyssens said by leveraging resources, creating partnerships and being focused on what they do, they intend to get the biggest bang possible for their buck.
Currently, Aboriginal tourism in B.C. represents about $700 million in consumer spending, and employs about 7,000 people. “We saw 10 per cent growth year over year in experiences, jobs and businesses, but we want a more aggressive approach in trying to meet the demand,” she said.
To start, Aboriginal Tourism B.C. wants to establish an Aboriginal tourism expert in northern B.C. — there is one in place already in the Thompson-Nicola region — and start meeting with communities to determine what they want.
Eyssens already knows they have the secret to growing the sector — their stories.
“Tourism is an opportunity to connect with the culture and showcase and celebrate the successes they have,” she said. “Consumers and visitors coming to B.C. want to be a part of that.”