$1.2M fund set up to help Indigenous tourism operators during pandemic

The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) has created a stimulus package worth $1.2 million to help prevent a collapse of the Indigenous tourism industry.

According to Keith Henry, president and CEO of ITAC, 140 Indigenous businesses will be provided with grants worth a maximum $25,000.

“The first priority for us right now in this unprecedented time is to make sure we help you in the small business community get some support through our existing resources.”, Henry stated.

Henry told viewers over a Facebook live stream that the grants are an effort to support them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The reality that we all can see is that both domestic and international tourism is going to be non-existent for some time.”, Henry said.

Indigenous businesses within the tourism industry offer a variety of tours, cultural experiences and events.

Wapusk Adventures in Churchill, Man., and Tundra North Tours in Inuvik, N.W.T. are just some of the businesses that are members of ITAC.

According to Henry, the intake period will last one month before resources are released.

Eligibility is restricted to businesses that are 51 per cent owned by Indigenous entrepreneurs. The money is to go to “maintaining jobs, diversifying revenue streams or strengthening business offering.”

The Canadian tourism industry is worth $100 billion to the Canadian economy, employing approximately 40,000 people across the country, Henry said.

The federal minister responsible for tourism, Mélanie Joly, also appeared in the livestream event.

She said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, “[Indigenous tourism] was out-pacing all tourism sectors across the board, across the country.”

Henry said that ITAC will also invest in regional Indigenous tourism organizations, such as Indigenous Tourism Alberta, in hopes of maintaining the momentum they have achieved over the last few years.

He said the most challenging aspect is to make sure that Indigenous tourism businesses stay afloat during this crisis.

Both Henry and Joly have predicted the tourism industry will face large challenges over the upcoming months.

The federal government has provided financial support through Business Development Canada (BDC) and Export Development Canada (EDC), however, ITAC stated in a press release that many Indigenous businesses within the tourism industry were new and not yet able to show profits and therefore will not qualify for the loans offered by BDC and EDC.

Joly told viewers that she is working to create a new stimulus package for those in the Indigenous tourism sector.

ITAC stated $550 million is needed in additional support from the federal government to curb the risk of economic collapse in the Indigenous tourism industry.

It is expected that one third of those employed in the Indigenous tourism industry will be without work and that one third of businesses in the industry will close by June of this year, according to ITAC.

ITAC has released a new 2020-2021 action plan as a response to how they will address COVID-19 related challenges.

Henry is encouraging Indigenous businesses to enroll in ITAC’s free membership program.

“Our biggest challenge is making sure that the businesses don’t disappear, that they survive, that they don’t become insolvent,” Henry said.

The deadline to apply for money is April 30.

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