By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Last month the government of Canada announced $1.3 million in funding for Alberta’s Indigenous tourism sector.
$843,000 will be used to support Indigenous Tourism Alberta’s (ITA) five-year strategy and action plan to help the province’s tourism operators adapt to market changes.
The funding will specifically be used for key initiatives like the development of a mentorship program, a resiliency partnership program and web development to showcase Indigenous tourism operators and experiences.
The remaining $500,000 will be used to develop and launch The Sacred Defenders of the Universe experience at the TELUS Spark Centre in Calgary, which promises to share Indigenous knowledge and tradition to a growing audience using the Centre’s state-of-the-art Digital Immersion Gallery.
With these investments, Indigenous Tourism Alberta expects to help create, maintain, or expand 45 Indigenous businesses and 100 jobs, while TELUS Spark Centre expects its project to attract over 19,000 visitors by 2023.
Minister of Northern Affairs and minister responsible for Prairies Economic Development Canada, Daniel Vandal, said of the investment, “By supporting Alberta’s hard-hit tourism sector, our government is helping tourism operators adapt and enhance experiences to accommodate an expected wave of domestic and international visitors that are eager to experience all that Canada and Alberta have to offer.”
“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 around the globe,” concluded the minister.
Pre-COVID, Indigenous tourism was one of Canada’s and Alberta’s largest and fastest-growing tourism niche sectors — worth an estimated $166.2 million.
However, in their 2020 – 2024 strategic recovery action plan, the ITA reported a 65 per cent Indigenous tourism job loss and 62 per cent loss of direct GDP.
Therefore, the ITA’s 2024 targets have been revised since the entry of the pandemic, meaning that the organization’s main goal is returning to pre-COVID-19 levels. This includes 125 Indigenous tourism businesses, 2939 Indigenous tourism employees, and $166.2 million in direct GDP contributions.
The Indigenous tourism sector in Alberta, and presumably the country, was hit particularly hard due to closed borders that prevented international travellers from coming in. The situation was so dire that the sector wouldn’t have made it if it weren’t for federal partnerships said Shae Bird, CEO of Indigenous Tourism Alberta.
“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.”
“From website modernizations to executive mentorships to tourism readiness programs and cultural awareness sessions for tourism-industry partners, ITA programs not only helped entrepreneurs navigate tough times, but also align with long-term strategies for growth.”
“ITA looks forward to continuing our work with the Government of Canada to support the diverse and impactful Indigenous visitor economy in what we now know as Alberta,” Bird concluded.