Indigenous Tourism left scrambling to access funds needed to keep the industry from collapsing
COAST SALISH TERRITORY (Vancouver, BC) – Yesterday, April 19, 2021, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, released Budget 2021: A Recovery Plan for Jobs, Growth, and Resilience, the Government of Canada’s plan to finish the fight against COVID-19 and ensure a robust economic recovery for all Canadians. Although the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) is glad to see investments being made to Indigenous tourism, Indigenous people and their communities, and tourism in general, ITAC is extremely disappointed and confused with the amount dedicated directly to the Indigenous tourism sector given the harsh realities Indigenous tourism businesses are facing at this time.
“Right now, Indigenous tourism businesses are severely struggling and the industry is at risk of collapsing without significant funding,” says Keith Henry, President and CEO of ITAC. “Indigenous tourism is a key economic driver for many Indigenous communities in Canada and this federal budget has largely missed the mark for the Indigenous tourism industry leaving Indigenous tourism businesses behind. The federal government has consistently stated, including the finance minister yesterday, that there is no more important relationship than with Indigenous people so it is disappointing to see little direct support for the Indigenous tourism sector.”
“We have already lost so much,” says Henry. “Prior to Covid-19, the Indigenous tourism sector celebrated its most successful year to date in 2019, with 1,900 Indigenous tourism businesses, 40,000 Indigenous tourism employees and a contribution of $1.9B in revenue to Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP). Today, the economic effects of the pandemic have reached catastrophic levels, with many businesses forced to shut their doors permanently and as a result, only an estimated 1,000 Indigenous-led tourism businesses and 15,284 employees remain part of the industry. ”
The federal budget included support for Indigenous entrepreneurs, which among other items, included $2.4M to be allocated directly to ITAC. However, outlined in ITAC’s 2020-24 Strategic Recovery Plan with the goal to respond, recover and rebuild the Indigenous tourism industry across Canada to levels experienced in 2019 by 2024, ITAC needed $50M from 2020 to 2024. Furthermore, ITAC created a Second Wave Response strategy with a recommended investment of over $18M in emergency support to further stabilize the industry from more infrastructure and economic losses. The total combined ask was $68.3M and was made clear to federal partners, ministers and the federal finance committee. In 2019-20, ITAC operated a $20M budget fulfilling all obligations and is now being reduced to $2.4M, representing less than 3% of the original ask. Given these circumstances, ITAC will not be able to provide the programs it envisions for the recovery of the Indigenous tourism industry and is now worried about the risk of seeing a full collapse of the sector.
Despite this glaring oversight by the federal government to earmark direct funding through Indigenous-led solutions to sustain the Indigenous tourism sector, as the national entity representing the interests of Indigenous tourism businesses and protecting the future of the industry, ITAC will keep advocating for recognition as a separate entity within the tourism sector and fighting alongside its members to ensure their survival.
“Also absent from the budget was the recognition that Indigenous-developed, managed and led solutions are absolutely necessary to provide our community with easier access to programs outside of the traditional systematic bureaucracies,” said Henry. “Indigenous people and businesses simply do not fit into these systems and, therefore, historically have been unable to access support from federal programs. After demonstrating our ability to support our businesses through grants and marketing initiatives throughout 2020, we had hoped that the federal government would once again partner with us to administer directed support to our industry. We worked diligently with our industry partners to put together a plan toward recovery – which offered viable solutions and a timeline for bringing our industry back – but as of now, ITAC has not been engaged to resume our role nor do we have the funding necessary to bring this plan or any other programs to life at this point.”
In a detailed action plan to target the next stage in recovery and resiliency, ITAC developed 32 key objectives to rehabilitate the industry and provide much-needed direct support to its members – which increased to a record-breaking 977 members as of March 31, 2021, demonstrating the leadership and trust ITAC has within the industry – and to secure its network of provincial and territorial Indigenous tourism organizations as well as to stabilize ITAC’s national operations. With these objectives in place, ITAC had planned to allocate a $14M budget in this 2021-22 Action Plan to support this recovery through expedited initiatives spearheaded by an Indigenous-led and coordinated approach. These initiatives, designed to strengthen the development of the Indigenous tourism industry across Canada, include but are not limited to: business grants; domestic marketing campaigns; provincial and territorial support; research and sentiment analysis; as well as the implementation of a helpline for both mental health and business development support to access programs.
With an unprecedented amount of spending in the federal budget, the Indigenous tourism industry seems to be left behind. The Indigenous tourism sector needs a national, coordinated, Indigenous-led approach in order to respond, recover and build resiliency from the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and this federal budget largely missed the mark for the Indigenous tourism industry in Canada. Indigenous people use tourism as a means to rediscover and share their culture with the world and this is yet another blow to preserving Indigenous languages, cultures and way of life. Indigenous tourism provides differentiation to Canadian experiences and this is a missed opportunity by the federal government to truly reconcile with Indigenous people and to highlight one of the most sought-after and in-demand experiences in the country.
To arrange an interview with Brenda Holder, Chair of the ITAC Board of Directors, or Keith Henry, President and CEO of ITAC, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.