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Tourism industry to switch gears in wake of ITAC annual conference

Indigenous tourism in Canada will once again pivot in an effort to remain financially viable in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic after the 24-month ordeal that saw many of their businesses shuttered – but now, the industry will target domestic tourism in Canada, a Kahnawake tourism professional said earlier this week.

“We’ve had to pivot again, where once we were targeting international tourism, now we have had to switch gears, for obvious reasons,” said Kahnawake Tourism Development Agent Kimberly Cross, as it is expected international tourism may not return to its pre-pandemic levels for some time. “But we’ve switched gears for some time now.”

Indeed, Kahnawake tourism is setting its sights on Canadian tourists – and the Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow-Wow’s return could be a big part of helping tourists rediscover the community, Cross said.

Cross spent last week at the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada’s (ITAC) annual conference in Calgary, where Indigenous tourism professionals from across the country gathered to discuss the future of the business, the short-term viability of Indigenous tourism in Canada and the best way to rebuild in the wake of two years that gutted the tourism and hospitality industries.

“One of the things I took away from it was how to better work with our partners and to learn from other tourism providers, take different best practises and apply them to the tourism business in our community,” she said, citing the success of virtual tours and digital experiences that have kept some providers afloat in the throughout the pandemic.

“There’s definitely been a big focus on domestic tourism. What’s positive is, we had already begun that switch. We’ve already started working closely with Quebec Indigenous Tourism as well,” Cross said.

The ITAC conference, whose theme was ‘Build Back Better,’ was held last week, from Tuesday to Thursday. ITAC CEO Keith Henry said the conference was a golden opportunity to help rebuild the embattled industry in the wake of the pandemic.

“Indigenous tourism brings economic stability, education, training, and job creation to communities that are often overlooked by our governments,” Henry said. “It’s no secret that the pandemic has had and continues to have devastating impacts on our industry, but NITC (National Indigenous Tourism Conference) provides an opportunity to unite with Indigenous and non-Indigenous tourism leaders and build back the industry better than it was before.”

Cross agreed. In May, she will meet with tour operators from around the country at Rendez-Vous Canada 2022 in Toronto in an effort to get the community on those operators’ radar.

“It’s like speed dating for tourism,” Cross said. “We spend 10 or 15 minutes with each tour operator. I make my pitch, tell them all about the community and its attractions,” she said, adding this year will bring a special focus on pumping up tourism from Quebec.

“I’ll definitely be meeting with more regional and provincial operators this year,” she said.

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