Delegates at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) chiefs assembly in Ottawa this week have passed a resolution to seek resources for an Indigenous tourism strategy after the federal government’s budget last week failed to meet some expectations.
Chief Linda Debassige of M’Chigeeng First Nation in Ontario moved the resolution which passed Tuesday.
Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, said he was disappointed with the budget’s proposed tourism plan. He said he would like to see an Indigenous-led tourism strategy since there’s significant demand.
“If we want to have a competitive tourism industry for all of Canada, it is paramount that Indigenous tourism is one of the critical components,” Henry said.
Local communities and individual entrepreneurs are working to promote tourism in their own communities, Henry said, but there needs to be a “robust co-ordinated effort on development and marketing” from the federal government to support those efforts.
Indigenous tourism needs own strategy, says advocate
The Covid-19 pandemic hit the tourism sector hard, and revenues still haven’t returned to 2019 levels, according to data gathered by Statistics Canada.
The 2023 budget would provide $108 million over three years “to support communities, small businesses, and non-profit organizations in developing local projects and events.”
It would also provide $50 million over three years to Destination Canada — a Crown corporation.
Indigenous tourism operators would be one of several stakeholders consulted to help craft a Federal Tourism Growth Strategy.
Like some delegates who spoke at the AFN, Henry said there should be direct investment into Indigenous-led tourism, rather than including it as a piece of a broader strategy.
He said it makes sense for the federal government to invest in its own infrastructure, like Destination Canada, but said Indigenous tourism needs its own dedicated strategy.
“I just think we need to think carefully about how we move forward when we claim reconciliation on one hand and on the other just continue to invest in non-Indigenous institutions to be the solution.”
Another challenge for the sector, according to Henry, is that there isn’t enough supply — businesses and workers — to meet the demand for Indigenous tourism experiences.
“We don’t have the business apparatus and we don’t have it strategically marketed, promoted and branded in the way that consumers know how they’re purchasing authentic Indigenous tourism.”