The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) is warning that without additional funding to support Indigenous tourism businesses, the industry will collapse.
ITAC says that an additional $18.5 million is needed as international borders remain closed and health units across Canada are once again limiting domestic travel in order to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
The Indigenous tourism industry has been especially affected; and to date, based on research conducted with the Conference Board of Canada, ITAC is reporting a 65.9% decline in Canada’s direct gross domestic product (GDP) and an anticipated loss of over 1,000 Indigenous tourism businesses, affecting over 21,000 people and their families.
Keith Henry, president and CEO of ITAC, said that: “With many local businesses relying on tourism to survive, the initial funding provided by both the federal government and from ITAC directly has been paramount in keeping businesses afloat and keeping food on the table for many families until now. This second wave is well ongoing and will continue to lead to the closure of even more of our establishments and institutions.”
But Henry also pointed out that: “These losses are not just another number; these are 1,000 Indigenous owned and operated businesses that support communities — including rural and remote areas. On top of the financial loss, there is also a loss of heritage and culture, traditional languages, history and storytelling, and the awareness around reconciliation that we have fought so hard to preserve.”
Henry made it clear that: “It is imperative we do everything we can to protect these already at-risk communities from further impoverishment and save the industry, which is not only a significant driver in the Canadian economy as a whole but equally important, a portal into Canada’s culture and heritage.”
And he stated: “We implore the federal government to do everything they can to keep these communities and business alive and help us stabilize the progress we have made since the creation of ITAC.”
And while the federal government did provide initial COVID-relief funding in June in the sum of $16 million, which supported over 600 Indigenous businesses across the country, those funds were only able to address the immediate needs of businesses to keep them open and cover expenses for the loss of the summer season.
In order for the industry to withstand and build resiliency in the second wave, further funding is necessary. Therefore, on behalf of the industry, ITAC is working hard to help salvage the livelihoods of Canada’s Indigenous populations, whose businesses showcase the cultural experiences and diversity of the nation.
ITAC is recommending another emergency investment of $18,535,000 in additional financial support to further stabilize the industry from more infrastructure and economic losses brought on by the second wave of the pandemic.
These funds are to be distributed to Indigenous tourism businesses to be invested in tools (creating or updating online platforms, advertising, etc.) that will allow them to market their businesses, generate revenue and increase consumer traffic directly rather than relying on the Association’s support of the industry overall.
It is crucial these funds be distributed immediately and dispersed through ITAC, which has a proven track record in administering multi-million dollar projects simultaneously and achievement in advancing Indigenous tourism in Canada through an Indigenous-led strategy.
The breakdown of ITAC’s second wave emergency response plan is as follows:
$6,000,000 in innovative domestic marketing to:
* Create a new Indigenous travel incentive program
* Launch domestic marketing campaigns to encourage Canadians to visit Indigenous tourism experiences close to home
* Be a resource in coaching and training tourism operators to build out sales and marketing materials and virtual experiences
$12,075,000 in Wave 2 stimulus grants for:
* Emergency stimulus access for Indigenous tourism businesses that did not access funds from the current program (approximately 150 businesses) and secondary funding for the 683 recipients of Wave 1 grants
$460,000 for the Indigenous Tourism Business Crisis Call Centre to:
* Provide members with one-on-one help for businesses to identify and access federal relief initiatives and offer supports for mental health and industry relief
* Provide emergency capacity support for provincial and territorial partners
* Provide support to consumers and operators participating in the travel incentive program
* Provide members with easy access to resources for marketing and business development
ITAC has been tireless in advocating for Indigenous-led solutions and stimulus grants and insists the only way the industry will survive is with additional federal investments. Earlier this year, ITAC also launched a four-year, $50 million strategic recovery plan with the goal to respond, recover and rebuild the Indigenous tourism industry across Canada to levels experienced in 2019 by 2024. The new call for federal funding is for additional funds above the $50 million ask currently tabled and ITAC is still hoping to also receive funding from the Federal government for its Recovery Plan.
Said Henry: “We hope the government understands that the situation is more than serious, businesses are shutting down, operators are in distress. We need to support our operators from mental breakdown and help them access some of the federal programs, as they often fall through the cracks of the system.”
And he concluded: “Our Industry is resilient but there is a limit to what it can take. Our goal is to partner with the federal government and work together to the survival of our industry by having solutions to sustain businesses immediately and through the winter.”