COAST SALISH TERRITORY (Vancouver, BC) – Following the release of the 2021 Federal Budget, the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) is expressing concerns that a lack of investment in Indigenous tourism in the budget will exacerbate challenges for a sector that is systemically disadvantaged.

ITAC – a non-profit organization tasked with growing and promoting the Indigenous tourism industry across the country – operated on a $21M budget in 2020-2021 including COVID-relief funding that they were engaged by the federal government (through Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED)) to allocate to businesses in need of relief. This enabled ITAC to distribute 683 non-repayable grants of up to $25,000 each to support Indigenous tourism operators struggling to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new federal budget earmarked only $2.4M for ITAC, leaving the organization confused, shocked and disappointed. ITAC had originally requested $68M, including $50M to be rolled out from 2020 to 2024, and $18M in emergency support.

While the budget did contain important investments for Indigenous People, their businesses and their communities, as well as tourism more broadly, it came up short in supporting an industry that has lost nearly half of its businesses and a third of its workforce in the past year.

Due to the many systemic barriers and lack of access that Indigenous tourism businesses face, they often do not have historic relationships with mainstream banking institutions and have therefore relied on National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association (NACCA) and their network of Aboriginal Financial Institutions (AFIs), and ITAC to access much-needed funding and support. The facts speak for themselves regarding the current federal relief programs and their lack of success for this sector – based on research conducted by ITAC:

  • 8% of Indigenous tourism businesses surveyed accessed Canadian Emergency Benefit Account (CEBA)
  • 7% of the Indigenous tourism businesses surveyed accessed the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS)
  • 0.02% of the Indigenous tourism businesses surveyed accessed the Canadian Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS)
  • 0.1% of the Indigenous tourism businesses surveyed accessed funds through a Regional Development Agency (RDA) tourism support Program, Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF)
  • 6.6% of the Indigenous tourism businesses surveyed applied for the Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP)

“We are really disappointed in the lack of support for Indigenous tourism,” said Keith Henry, President and CEO of ITAC. “We continue to see this sector systemically disadvantaged, and this budget will exacerbate that. There are barriers and cumulative issues that are preventing Indigenous tourism from not only recovering from the dire setbacks brought on by the pandemic but also surviving long term. It’s very clear that the current system is not working for Indigenous tourism.”

He added, “With the pandemic, the past year has resulted in a loss of 30 years of progress to the Indigenous tourism industry; without directed federal funding everything will be lost. The funds we requested from the government are desperately needed for ITAC to continue supporting Indigenous businesses across the country. Without this funding, we will have to start winding down our operations.”

Without directed federal operational and relief funding, cuts to ITAC’s operations will begin in May and continue through June and will include the dissolution of grant programs; cessation of all marketing to promote the industry; the termination of provincial and territorial agreements and MOUs; the disbanding of development programs including RISE and Indigenous Culinary of Associated Nations.

Indigenous tourism is one of the largest single employers and economic drivers of Indigenous communities, which, according to the latest research from the Conference Board of Canada, as of 2019, included at least 1,700 businesses, more than 36,000 employees and contributed more than $1.6B annually to Canada’s GDP.

Webinar Today

Tune in today, April 23 at 11 a.m. PT / 2 p.m. ET for a live webinar hosted by Henry who will discuss ITAC’s reaction to the federal budget announcement and what it means for Indigenous tourism, ITAC’s members and provincial/territorial partners.

This webinar presentation is open to Indigenous tourism partners, members and the media. It will be hosted on Henry’s personal Facebook account and available to view afterward on ITAC’s corporate website.

For further information: To arrange an interview with Henry or Brenda Holder, Chair of the ITAC Board of Directors, please contact: John Fenton, jfenton@navltd.com.