Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Keith Henry’s worst fears about the impacts of COVID-19 on the Indigenous tourism industry have been confirmed by the Conference Board of Canada.
Today, the Conference Board released a 26-page report titled The Impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s Indigenous Tourism Sector: Insight from Operators. It has determined that more than 700 Indigenous tourism businesses are at risk of permanently closing their doors in 2020 or 2021 because of lost revenues to date, as well as future predicted losses.
“Since COVID-19 first hit the tourism industry across Canada, we had no doubt the negative impacts would be devastating to our Indigenous tourism operators,” said Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC).
The three provinces that have the most at-risk businesses are British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.
Compared to last year, the Indigenous tourism industry is seeing a significant decline in revenues—65.9 per cent. This translates to $555 million to the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
Also, more than 14,600 jobs—a stunning decrease of 59.4 per cent—have been lost this year in the Indigenous tourism sector.
Henry believes it was vital for ITAC to request the Conference Board of Canada examine the industry.
“While working with the federal government on Indigenous-led financial solutions, we knew it was important to invest in research even if it proves our greatest fears,” Henry said.
Until Thursday’s report was released, ITAC officials had been stating there were 1,900 Indigenous tourism businesses across the country.
But the report said ITAC has revised its definition of those in the Indigenous tourism industry to exclude gasoline and general merchandise stores. As a result, the revised figure of Indigenous tourism businesses across Canada is now 1,699.
A total of 585 of these businesses responded to a bilingual survey from the Conference Board of Canada. Survey information helped shape the report’s research findings. Information from these businesses was gathered throughout April and May.
“The biggest concerns by members are on how long disruptions from COVID-19 will last and the enormous loss of revenues as a result,” Henry said.
ITAC officials are doing their best to assist with the industry recovery and rebuild.
Last week ITAC released its own four-year, $50 million strategic recovery plan. The goal is to have the Indigenous tourism industry restored to the level it was in 2019 by the year 2024.
ITAC’s recovery plan features three phases: Response, Recovery and Resilience.
ITAC officials received some positive news last Friday when the federal government announced $133 million in new funding to support Indigenous businesses that have been suffering from pandemic impacts.
A total of $16 million of the funding announced last week will go specifically to support the Indigenous tourism industry. ITAC will be responsible to deliver this funding to businesses that had applied for financial support through a grant stimulus program it was offering.
More than 600 businesses had applied to ITAC for these grants, which are worth up to $25,000 each.
Thanks in part to some previously announced federal funding, ITAC was in a position before to only provide grants to less than one-third of those businesses that had applied for assistance.
But with the $16 million in additional funding from the Canadian government, ITAC officials say they will be able to give grants to all of those who had previously applied for support.
But even more support is needed in order to help ITAC achieve its rebuilding goals in the coming years.
“Our focus continues to be on Indigenous-led solutions to mitigate business closures so that the tourism industry across Canada continues to have a diverse range of authentic, high-quality Indigenous tourism experiences which we know from past research is in high demand globally,” Henry said.
Besides continuing to seek further federal support, ITAC officials are working with provincial/territorial governments, as well as other partners, to establish industry recovery plans.
Adam Fiser, the associate director of the Conference Board of Canada, said varying phases of a rebuild will be required for the industry.
“What our research suggests is that adaptability and a phased approach will be needed to accommodate the different needs, time horizons and safety requirements of the diversity of Indigenous experience providers across Canada,” Fiser said.
“Listening to communities and working with their members and businesses will be fundamental to recovery and renewal.”
The Conference Board of Canada is the country’s leading evidenced-based applied research organization .