Association planning for continued interest in Indigenous tourism
- NC Raine | November 05, 2018
Interest has never been higher in Indigenous tourism in Saskatchewan and across Canada. As such, businesses and organizations in the province are beginning to prepare for the next wave of tourism in their local communities.
The International Indigenous Tourism Conference (IITC) took place October 30-31 in Saskatoon, focusing on the development, marketing, and implementation of Indigenous tourism. The conference, presented by The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) shared with delegates and attendees the pillars of leadership, partnership, marketing, and development behind their 5-Year Plan.
“The goal is to help people understand what the market opportunity is, and what visitors are wanting from Canada,” said Keith Henry, President and Chief Executive Officer of ITAC. “We want to start building a more specific strategy for Saskatchewan.”
Henry said that Indigenous tourism has grown 26% since 2015, thanks in large part to finally having a national strategy, national marketing campaign, and product development tactics helping to grow the tourism industry. Tourists want understand the people of this province, he said.
“Visitor demands are changing. They want more authentic, more transformational types of experiences,” he said.
Saskatchewan has historically not been a high-priority destination for tourists, but the opportunities are there. According to ITAC, Indigenous tourism is worth about $121 million in sales in Saskatchewan. A Saskatchewan specific conference was held one day prior to IITC, which was ITAC's most well-attended province-specific conference to date, said Henry.
“Saskatchewan is not well known as an Indigenous tourism destination, so that’s part of the reason why we brought the conference here – to continue to build capacity,” said Henry.
Canada’s biggest tourism market remains Canada itself, with 55% of tourism business comes within Canada. For international visitors, research from ITAC shows that 1 in 3 international tourists to Canada are interested in Indigenous tourism experiences.
“We want to strengthen what's in our backyard right now, and we want to develop the path forward to what we can really be in the future,” said Jesse Morin, Corporate Development Officer of Meadow Lake Tribal Council Industrial Investments (MLTCII).
MLTCII recently received a grant of $80,000 from Western Economic Diversification Canada, as well as funding from Indian Affairs, which allows them to build their Northwest tourism project.
“We’re building a template or role that allows the path for local entrepreneurs to do it,” said Morin. “Now there’s a machine behind all of this to help drive it forward. Now is the time to be involved in Indigenous tourism.”
One of those local entrepreneurs launching into Indigenous tourism is Michela Carriere, who owns Aski Holistic Adventures. Carriere was awarded earlier this year first place in the Aboriginal Youth Idea Challenge for her business plan. She has since launched Aski, which offers land-based healing retreats, tipi camping, wilderness survival and skills training, and canoe trips, all based out of Cumberland House, SK.
She hopes she can show the world the beauty of her home and her culture.
“I want to bring people from all over the world to visit us and really experience nature and true healing on a different level,” said Carriere, who has been adventure guiding for over 10 years.
Carriere said her biggest challenge in making her tourism business grow is lack of internet access in her remote community. As communicating online with potential clients in key in tourism, Carriere is hoping to find the funding necessary to allow international tourists to find her business.
“This conference has been so amazing for networking,” she said. “I need support. I am just one girl. It would be great for people to advocate for me. And this conference is exposing me marketing and training (needed) for the international market.”