Travellers are increasingly looking for more educational and authentic experiences, according to the Government of Alberta, and a new group funded by the province hopes to promote a growing sector that will draw those visitors in — Indigenous tourism.
"A lot of visitors may think of Indigenous experiences as homogenous and frankly they're not. It's another way to package and promote that Alberta's got a rich and diverse Indigenous cultural community," said Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, at a press conference Friday at the Tsuut'ina Nation Culture Museum.
The province has given a $315,000 grant — jointly funded by the ministries of Culture and Tourism and Labour — to the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada to create Indigenous Tourism Alberta.
Travel Alberta has contributed another $50,000 to help create a provincial strategy for the new group.
"We love to share who we are, we love to share our stories, we love to invite visitors and guests in, so it's only a really natural thing for us to do. It helps to strengthen communities as well," said Brenda Holder, the chair of Indigenous Tourism Alberta.
Not just about economics
"It's not just about economic viability, it's about re-engaging elders and youth together it's about re-engaging community. It has a wonderful social impact for us," she added.
Culture Minister Ricardo Miranda said the grant's goal is to help Indigenous entrepreneurs in their own communities create jobs.
He said Alberta tourism has grown to an $8.5-billion industry in recent years, and he believes growing the Indigenous tourism sector can help push the industry to $10 billion.
"We want to see success. We have market demand. We know ... Indigenous tourism is growing everywhere in the country," said Henry, who said he can see a roadmap to growing the Indigenous tourism industry in Alberta by $35 million in the next five years.
Indigenous travel destinations in Canada have garnered global attention recently, with the New York Times' travel columnist visiting Saskatoon's Wanuskewin Heritage Park, where she took in Cree art and spent the night in a teepee.
The grant will support the creation of a provincial strategy for the organization, resources for entrepreneurs and communities, and product development to help tourism businesses improve operations.
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