Indigenous tourism group avoids closure, plans marketing campaign to help industry
OTTAWA – A group representing thousands of Indigenous-led tourism operators say they have found the money to avoid sinking and that enough is left to launch a new campaign to help the besieged sector.
The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada says it has found the necessary funding from its partners to maintain core operations and what it calls a modest national marketing campaign for the summer.
The campaign was launched Monday, on National Indigenous Peoples Day, and as provincial governments ease restrictions on domestic travel and the federal government prepares to allow fully vaccinated Canadian travelers to forgo the quarantine from July 5.
The goal of the five-month campaign is to help travelers easily identify and book authentic Indigenous experiences, as well as modernize perceptions of those experiences, to give tourism operators a boost.
The campaign will involve online banner ads, video thumbnails and collaboration with partners like TripAdvisor, said association CEO Keith Henry.
He said about half of the roughly $ 5 million in funding the group has secured will go to marketing efforts to entice domestic travelers to travel from Ontario to Manitoba, for example, because so many tour operators natives do not have the marketing funds to do the outreach themselves.
“Everyone agrees that we can finally start to better understand where our customers are going to come from, and it’s very clear that it will have to be local,” Henry said in an interview on Monday.
“The operators themselves are feeling optimistic. The reality, however, is that we have a lot of ground to catch up in a very short period of time. So that’s cautious optimism.”
The sector had around 1,900 companies and some 40,000 employees before the pandemic. COVID-19 has sent those figures to the crater. Henry said the remaining businesses in the sector will need to have revenues above $ 300 million in sales this year to avoid more permanent shutdowns.
He added that they will also need more details on the reopening of the border to international travelers, who make up 90% of the paying customers of some companies, especially in the North.
He also said understanding how border measures will ease will help indigenous tourism operators market foreign visitors.
“We know they will come back, but we have to make sure we tell them how to get back,” Henry said.
“This is the thing that we have to tackle very quickly.”
A key remaining hurdle for the sector is trying to increase staff levels by at least 25 percent. Henry said many Indigenous employees have been lost to other sectors, having to move on as uncertainty over the pandemic persisted.
Henry said these employees are the key to the success of Indigenous tourism businesses so they can help teach the “real history and history of this country.”
“It’s not like a non-native business here. That’s what makes our businesses special,” Henry said.
“That’s what worries us the most – bringing back those employees and people who organize these little outdoor adventure experiences to really educate and try to share the culture.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 21, 2021.
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