Indigenous tourism prepares for pivotal role in economic recovery
As the economy gradually recovers from the effects of the pandemic, the tourism sector is preparing to once again be a multi-billion dollar industry within Alberta.
Seeking to play a pivotal role as the sector rebounds, Indigenous tourism owners, operators, and leaders gathered at the Alberta Indigenous Tourism Summit today to work towards a cohesive and sustainable recovery. This represents only the third Alberta Indigenous Tourism Summit ever hosted.
Indigenous tourism is broadly defined as a business 51 percent owned or operated by Indigenous members, and oriented towards cultural experiences such as medicine walks, artisan galleries, cultural centres or an Indigenous themed event such as a pow wow.
"There is a huge opportunity in Indigenous tourism," said David Goldstein, CEO of Travel Alberta. "Before the pandemic, the visitor economy was worth about $8.5 billion to the Alberta economy, and about 25 per cent of that was international travellers coming to Alberta. As we plan our way to get back to, and beyond 2019 levels, Indigenous tourism is going to be right in the sweet spot of what those international travellers are looking for," said Goldstein.
Partnering with industry leaders, the summit features multiple sessions with keynote speakers, learning sessions and panel discussions to aid Indigenous communities and entrepreneurs achieve success in the tourism industry. Over 300 industry members are expected to attend.
"It's all about relationships," said Shae Bird of Indigenous Tourism Alberta. "We have an entire tourism sector that is just starting to dip their toes in the Indigenous tourism side. Our industry partners are looking at how they can incorporate more Indigenous elements and work with Indigenous communities and entrepreneurs authentically and respectfully" said Bird.
Commenting on a broader shift within the tourism industry towards Indigenous elements and culture, Bird said it is early days but there are some positive signs of change.
"We are just starting to see a shift in the mentality of 'hey what can we do, we know we need to do more,' so it's a great opportunity for the industry as a whole to move in an exciting direction," he said.
Brenda Holder, owner of Mahikan Trails, said being able to once again meet and collaborate in-person is key to industry growth. "Having these kinds of events are going to be critical, to listen to other industry partners, what they're doing, and how we are working together; how we can see what other parts of the industry are working towards, it gives people a lot of hope," said Holder.
The Alberta Indigenous Tourism Summit runs through November 26 at the Grey Eagle Casino.