Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC), says his industry has been decimated by the COVID-19 crisis and needs “massive short term” help to save it.
Henry said tourism business opportunities for 2020 lay in ruin with the Indigenous tourism sector in Canada forecast to lose $800- to $900 million in GDP contribution and at least 12,000 jobs.
ITAC is doing its part to shore up member businesses by supplying grants of up to $25,000 each to help keep them afloat to see another tourism season.
After announcing the stimulus investment fund March 24 and sending out a call for applications, ITAC will now begin the work of assessing the more than 600 businesses requesting a piece of the $14.4 million the association has been able to pull together.
ITAC allocated its annual development grant money, along with “a large amount of savings” from other programs, to create the stimulus fund. Some additional funding came from the federal government.
“Indigenous tourism was booming before this was happening,” said Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly March 24. “It was out-pacing all tourism sectors across the board across the country.”
The deadline for the applications was April 30, and 604 Indigenous tourism business owners responded.
111 Export Ready Businesses: Refers to a business that markets to and through travel trade distribution sales channels.
236 Market Ready Businesses: Refers to a business that markets to potential visitors; communicate with potential visitors year-round, and is ready to accept advanced reservations.
115 Visitor Ready Businesses: Refers to a business that has all of their licenses, permits and insurance in place in order to operate legally.
136 Doors Open Businesses: Refers to tourism-related services and experiences that appear to be available, but they are not clearly explained and may be on-demand-only.
The remaining Indigenous businesses that applied need to be assessed to determine their stage of tourism development.
“We know the ITAC COVID-19 Development Stimulus Fund is not enough, but it was what we could do immediately to provide Indigenous tourism operators some relief,” said Henry in a statement on May 1.
There are about 2,000 Indigenous tourism businesses in Canada. One in three international visitors to Canada state they seek an Indigenous tourism experience, said Henry.
“As well, many local economies rely on tourism, and specifically Indigenous tourism, to survive.”