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Treaty 1 Territory Hosts World’s Largest Conference For Indigenous Tourism

Indigenous tourism operators, government officials, and industry partners gathered at Treaty 1 Territory, Winnipeg, for the 2023 International Indigenous Tourism Conference (IITC). 

The three-day event, from March 08 to 10, includes cultural experiences, keynote speakers such as the Honourable Murray Sinclair, Keith Henry, President and CEO of Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, Pania Tyson-Nathan, CEO of New Zealand Maori Tourism and presentations from industry leaders to learn and discuss best practices in Indigenous tourism, supporting and highlighting Indigenous run businesses, and a journey of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigneous people to unite and learn about the culture, and move forward together. 

The is hosted by the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC), an organization established not only to create partnerships between associations, organizations, government departments and industry leaders but to support and provide services for authentic Indigenous cultural tourism businesses in the ten provinces and three territories of Canada. As an Indigenous-led, owned and operated organization, ITAC President and CEO Keith Henry says they are diligently working to become leaders globally. To do that, the number of businesses needs to increase. 

“The demand far exceeds what we have. So that’s step one, and we have to grow the number of businesses in all the provinces and territories. That’s a long-term challenge. The second is we really need to reach out to our own Indigenous communities, networks, and organizations to know that Indigenous tourism is a really great career. A lot of people don’t realize the power of their own culture and their language and how important it is to this industry, and how important it is to them in creating a future for themselves.”

Some may see their culture and language as a liability and do something different to get away because, for many years, it did seem like a liability to be Indigenous. However, in Consumer Sentiment Research, in responses from survey Canadians, 86 per cent have a positive opinion of Indigenous Peoples. This was not true only a few years ago. 

“We’ve seen a complete flip in what Canadians think of Indigenous peoples, culture, and some of the opportunities through our tourism,” says Henry. 

In prior research back in 2017, when ITAC reviewed around 4 million social media conversations, over 70 percent was negative. 

“We’re measuring it, and it’s us leading this research. We’re gauging it, and we’re seeing that things are changing. Yes, reconciliation. Yes, Canadians woke up to the fact that residential schools weren’t some hoax. It was true. Yes, people care, and now is our time. That’s what we need to reiterate to all of us.”

David Daley owns Wapusk Adventures and has represented Manitoba as an ITAC Board of Directors member since 2018. He also chairs the Indigenous Tourism Manitoba Board. With a business located in Churchill, MB, has seen firsthand the significance and impact ITAC and the International Indigenous Tourism Conference can have on businesses. 

“We’re always building businesses. We have a contingent here from Churchill, my community. We’re an international destination, so we have people from all over the world that come and see us way up north on the edge of the Arctic. ITAC is a facilitator in getting us all together and building dreams.”

ITAC has big plans for 2030. As part of that plan to become the global leader in Indigenous tourism with direct contributions to GDP of $6 billion annually. This ambitious goal will require significant investments to build capacity and will need the following:

  • No less than 800 new Indigenous tourism businesses (up from 1,900 to a total of 2,700)
  • No less than 21,000 new Indigenous tourism jobs (up from 39,000 to a total of 60,000

To achieve this, ITAC is focusing on five themes:

  • Infrastructure and Destination Enhancement Funds
  • Attract and Retain a Sustainable Tourism Workforce
  • Develop and Promote Tourism Assets
  • A Sustainable Tourism Industry for Communities, the Economy and the Planet
  • Facilitate Access for Visitors to and within Canada

Making Canada the World Leader in Indigenous Tourism

This plan benefits the Canadian economy, supports the cause of reconciliation, and will improve Indigenous communities nationwide. 

– Ryan Funk, U Multicultural

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