The federal government announced Wednesday it will invest $1.3 million to support Indigenous tourism organizations that showcase Alberta as a premier destination.
The commitment will see $843,000 go towards Indigenous Tourism Alberta‘s (ITA) five-year strategy and action plan to help Alberta’s Indigenous tourism operators. That money will develop a mentorship program, a resiliency partnership program and web development.
“COVID-19 hit Indigenous tourism operators particularly hard, but ITA was able to support Indigenous entrepreneurs and communities through the pandemic and position them to thrive as travellers return thanks to the support of the government of Canada,” said Shae Bird, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Alberta.
Indigenous tourism booming in Alberta
He explained the Indigenous tourism sector was especially hard hit because the pandemic closed borders and prevented international visitors from coming to Alberta. Adjustments also had to be made so that operators were eligible for funding supports and relief funds, Bird said.
He said the partnerships with the federal government has been crucial for not just the growth — but the survival — of the Indigenous tourism industry in Alberta.
“I can say happily that we’re seeing a bit of a recovery starting. We’ve decreased the impacts of COVID pretty significantly, in comparison to some of the other provinces and territories,” Bird said. “We’re not quite out of the woods yet.”
Extended border closure another obstacle for Alberta Indigenous tourism industry
The federal funding will be focused on mentorships and digital support for Alberta businesses and entrepreneurs.
“We’re able to support 20 businesses to become more digital, getting their businesses online — whether that’s enhancing existing websites that they have or getting new businesses that didn’t have a website a website — so they can be found and that awareness can be found online and ideally bookable for that consumer,” Bird explained.
“We know the digitalization of our Indigenous services and products here in Alberta is incredibly important.”
The money will also fund executive-level mentorship programs for 11 businesses.
“To really guide the businesses through developing their business acceleration and maturity levels; anything from revamping business strategy, building out marketing strategies, supporting on making adjusted price points to increase profit margins or work with export-ready markets.
“That’s a program that we see huge value for our membership,” Bird added.
The money can also be used for things like cultural awareness sessions for non-Indigenous industry partners and the Indigenous Tourism Summit, he said.
Indigenous Tourism Alberta expects the investment will create, maintain or expand 45 Indigenous businesses and 100 jobs.
Calgary’s TELUS Spark Centre will receive $500,000 to develop and launch “The Sacred Defenders of the Universe” experience.
The interactive digital exhibit will share Indigenous knowledge and tradition and hopes to attract domestic and international visitors.
TELUS Spark Centre expects its project to attract over 19,000 visitors by 2023.
“Tourists will be enthralled by the powerful storytelling in this new digital immersion experience at Spark, as they explore culturally, learn and grow,” said Mary Anne Moser, president and CEO of TELUS Spark Science Centre.
“The project is led by Indigenous artists and will engage broad audiences in Indigenous ways of knowing. And the story is spectacular! We are grateful for the financial support to bring together a team with such talent, creativity and perspective.”
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The federal minister for Prairies Economic Development Canada said Alberta’s tourism sector was hard-hit by the pandemic but a wave of domestic and international visitors is now expected.
“These Investments in Alberta’s Indigenous tourism sector will strengthen resiliency among Indigenous tourism operators and advance reconciliation as they proudly share traditional Indigenous knowledge and culture with visitors from across Canada and aground the globe,” said Daniel Vandal.
The federal government said, prior to the pandemic, Indigenous tourism was one of Canada’s and Alberta’s largest and fastest-growing tourism niche sectors worth an estimated $166.2 million.
According to Bird, the Indigenous tourism industry in Alberta is incredibly diverse.
“How we define ‘Indigenous tourism operator’ for our membership is a tourism operator — anyone working in the tourism space — that is 51 per cent owned or operated by Indigenous entrepreneurs or communities.
“This could be anything from your traditional pow wows or medicine walks, cultural centres, but then we also look at hotels, fishing trips, accommodation, everything in between.”
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