As tourists slowly start to return to Manitoba, a newly recognized organization is making sure Indigenous communities are part of the tourism sector’s post-pandemic recovery.
“It was just crickets on the streets,” said Dave Daley, owner of Wapusk Adventures, a dog-sledding experience in Churchill, as he explained the impact of COVID-19 on his business and community.
Daley is board chair of the Manitoba Indigenous Tourism Association (MITA), which held a virtual summit on Thursday and released elements of a five-year plan for economic recovery for Manitoba’s Indigenous tourism sector.
“We’re happy to be back to the start of being reborn after COVID,” he said.
Daley describes MITA as an advocate for Indigenous tourism in the province that will help the roughly 100+ businesses that currently make up the Indigenous tourism sector, and aid in creating new ones.
“How do I start a business? How do I get going? All that stuff, and templates, will be there over the next four years,” said Daley.
MITA’s 4-year recovery strategy was unveiled on Thursday, crafted in partnership with Tourism Manitoba.
Getting businesses ready to meet existing demand is one major piece of the plan.
“People are looking for authentic Indigenous experiences and we’re focusing on delivering that,” said Colin Ferguson, president and CEO of Travel Manitoba.
Much like Manitoba’s broader tourism industry, the province’s Indigenous tourism sector was hit hard by the pandemic, said Ferguson.
Domestic travel, he added, has helped buoy the sector into 2021, with Travel Manitoba promoting Indigenous cultural experiences available to Manitobans throughout the pandemic.
Attracting more international travellers will be a major part of MITA’s tourism strategy.
One-third of tourists visiting Canada came to the country seeking some form of Indigenous tourism, according to the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.
In Manitoba, the Indigenous tourism sector was bringing in $49 million in GDP, dropping to $29 million so far this year.
It is estimated the sector won’t reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025.
Keith Henry, president of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, said boosting Manitoba’s international profile will be a key factor in economic recovery.
“It’s an untapped potential right now because Manitoba isn’t often at the forefront of Indigenous destinations,” said Henry.
“Indigenous tourism has a lot more potential room for growth.”
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