Joe Urie counts his blessings.
Starting up a business can be challenging, perhaps for a number of years. But Urie, who owns the Jasper Tour Company, said his company was able to enjoy immediate success once he launched it 20 years ago.
Urie was one of three members on a panel that spoke about their success stories at the Indigenous Tourism Alberta summit, which was held virtually and concluded on Wednesday.
Jasper Tour Company offers guided hikes as well as sightseeing and wildlife tours.
Having the Canadian Rockies as a backdrop for his workplace is fortuitous.
“It wasn’t that difficult because I have very fortunate geography,” Urie said of the business’ early and ensuing success. He co-owns his business with his wife Patti.
“We had a very captive audience here. It was just a matter of bringing the experience to them.”
Urie was joined on Wednesday’s panel by Matricia Bauer, one of the owners of an Edmonton-based company called Warrior Women, and Shannon Bear Chief, the operations manager of Siksika Nation’s Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park.
Mackenzie Brown (Matricia’s daughter), who is a project manager for Indigenous Tourism Alberta, hosted the panel.
Urie said he was knowledgeable in his field before launching his business.
“Before my wife and I started this company we cut our teeth on doing the same kind of work but for other people,” he said. “There was some kind of knowledge there. We weren’t going in blind.”
But Urie added he did plenty of legwork beforehand and prepared for most questions that he would be asked.
“Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot more to learn,” he said. “And I think I’ll finish my learning process the day I take my last breath. That’s the way it works.”
Urie saidd he tries to make his business stand out from others.
“There’s other companies that deliver these sorts of experiences here at Jasper National Park,” he said. “But what we try to do is we try to do it in a manner that we hope will help people realize that they aren’t just visitors to this place but that they actually belong here.
“I believe there are far too many people who are just acting as passengers on this planet. They have to come to the point where they understand that they are actually a part of it.”
Bauer is currently offering a pair of main experiences, fireside chats and plant walks in Jasper and surrounding areas.
“The fireside chats are basically an intimate experience where we sit around and talk about Indigenous issues,” Bauer said.
As for the plant walks, they are exactly what their name implies.
“The plant walks are a two-hour experience and we usually do a little bit of a walk and a little bit of a talk,” said Bauer. “And then we do we do a takeaway. So, we take the plants and their medicines and we either make a bath balm or a soap or a mask.”
Through her Warrior Women business, Bauer leads beading, drum making and leatherwork sessions.
“I’m actually travelling for those,” Bauer said. “As opposed to the tourists coming here I’m kind of going to the tourists. That’s just a little of a pivoting thing that I’m doing. And it’s actually been quite successful.”
Bauer is now planning to work year-round on her Jasper-based ventures.
She credits the pandemic which has given her extra time to plan her next steps.
“COVID actually gave me a chance to slow down, go back to the drawing board and redevelop my business plan and do a little bit of marketing and take a look at some other aspects of my business that I probably wouldn’t have had a chance to do,” she said.
Bauer also offered up some advice for others who currently run an Indigenous tourism business or are thinking of launching one.
“Don’t try to do everything yourself,” she said. “You need to partner really well and effectively and I think that’s going to carry you forward the most.”
As for Bear Chief, a member of Siksika Nation, she’s thrilled with her current position working at the Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park, a 30,000-square foot facility located on a national heritage site.
The facility opened in 2008 but has been closed since March because of the pandemic. But Bear Chief said facility employees have remained busy.
“We are still developing our virtual programs and also developing a virtual platform,” she said.
Bear Chief admits it has been challenging to go to a virtual platform after being such an interactive facility in the past. But she’s confident the facility will be more versatile once it does reopen to the public.
“It looks bright,” she said of the future. “It looks good. We’re working towards being market ready (and) export ready. We are looking at the future utilizing more of the technologies available to us to reach out to our target audiences and share and showcase our culture.”
By Sam Laskaris, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, CJWE