New federal funding of $16 million will help rebuild the Indigenous tourism industry, according to the national organization representing the sector.
The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) said it would use the money, announced by Ottawa on June 11, to assist more than 600 Indigenous businesses in the form of non-repayable grants of up to $25,000.
Keith Henry, ITAC’s president and CEO, said Indigenous-led funding models like this one will be “imperative” for the industry to survive.
“This $16 million in funding will go a long way to help our Indigenous tourism operators stay in business and in turn support Canada’s tourism industry overall by providing the type of authentic cultural Indigenous experiences which are in demand by visitors domestically and globally,” he said in an ITAC news release.
“We will continue to work hard to bring Indigenous tourism back to pre-2020 levels with 1,900 Indigenous tourism businesses, 40,000 Indigenous tourism employees, and a contribution of $1.9 billion in revenue to Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) – doing our part in helping rebuild our national economy.”
Early this month, ITAC launched a four-year, $50-million strategic recovery plan with the goal to respond, recover and rebuild the Indigenous tourism industry across Canada to levels experienced in 2019 by 2024.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ITAC estimates 32,000 Indigenous tourism employees have lost their jobs, 1,140 Indigenous tourism operators have had to shut down, and 800 Indigenous tourism businesses may never open again.
Through the strategic recovery plan, ITAC wants to ensure the sustainability of ITAC member businesses across the country; ensure the sustainability of the provincial and territorial Indigenous tourism associations; and ensure the sustainability of ITAC’s national operations.
This will happen in three phases through to March 2024.
Support for the Indigenous tourism sector is part of a larger federal funding package worth $133 million aimed at helping Indigenous businesses across the country feeling the impact of COVID-19.
That’s in addition to earlier funding of $306.8 million, announced in April, to support small and medium-sized Indigenous businesses impacted by the pandemic.
"While our top priority remains the health and safety of individuals, I want to acknowledge the great challenges Indigenous businesses and economies have faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indigenous businesses are the driving force of many local economies,” Mac Miller, minister of Indigenous services, said in a release.
“With this additional support, Indigenous communities and businesses will have the flexibility they need to respond to their unique economic needs through this difficult time."
Between 2014 and 2017, the Indigenous tourism industry grew by 23 per cent to an estimated $1.7 billion.