Online initiative urges Canadians to think ‘Destination Indigenous’ with travel plans

David Daley is hoping people in Canada will travel domestically and that this will eventually help his businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Métis man owns several businesses in Churchill, Man., including dog-sledding company Wapusk Adventures.

“This is an opportunity for Manitobans and Canadians to come up to Churchill and check [us] out,” Daley said and added that 80 per cent of his usual customers visit from the United States.

The Canadian border with the U.S. is closed until at least July 21 when the closure agreement will be reviewed.

“I’m anticipating that our Fall season will basically be gone and we’re just going to have to work at staycations with the Canadians here…to help us get through until tourism can return somewhat.”

A new campaign developed by the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) is encouraging Canadians to explore businesses like Wapusk Adventures and others with the launch of a new initiative called Destination Indigenous.

The online vacation planner showcases a variety of Indigenous experiences across Turtle Island, such as fishing, kayaking and cultural tours.

The new website was started in response to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re trying to stabilize as many businesses as we can,” said Keith Henry, CEO and president of Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC).

“Our goal is to ultimately help at least six to eight hundred businesses survive this.”

As of last year there were approximately 1,700 businesses in the Indigenous tourism sector.

A new report from the Canadian Conference Board of Canada, in partnership with ITAC, estimates around 700 businesses could be at risk of closure this year.

Henry estimates 100 businesses have already closed.

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The association recently developed a four-year, $50 million recovery plan with the goal of rebuilding the Indigenous tourism industry.

“We’ve created a strategy that’s going to talk about recovery, resiliency and then full on back to rebuilding Indigenous tourism back to roughly $1.9 billion direct gross domestic product,” said Henry.

The pandemic has forced the closure of borders and has limited travel meaning tourism businesses have taken a hit.

The sector will take in an estimated $555 million by the end of 2020 – this is down 65 per cent from 2019, according to the report.

For the rest of the year ITAC is putting the focus on promoting local Indigenous experiences.

“[Indigenous tourism] provides a platform that’s safe for Canadians to want to just learn together, have fun and explore something that for many Canadians they don’t even know anything about,” said Henry.

“The more we know each other the better place Canada becomes.”

The federal government announced a stimulus fund that will provide $16 million to support Indigenous tourism earlier this month. ITAC is in charge of distributing those funds to businesses across the country.

Daley expects to receive some of those funds, up to $25,000 per business according to ITAC, and anticipates it will cover his businesses until the Fall.

He is hopeful Canadians are choosing to explore Indigenous experiences after receiving a few booking inquiries this week – until then he’s keeping busy.

“We’re repairing dog houses and going through all our equipment. Just really taking the time to be ready,” said Daley.

“When this pandemic is over and they find a vaccine and our borders open again we want to hit the ground running.”

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