Indigenous tourism holds key to Alberta's post-pandemic recovery, officials say

·2 min read
A teepee overlooks the Bow River. Indigenous tourism operators say they are feeling hopeful as pandemic restrictions start to ease. (Terri Trembath/CBC - image credit)
A teepee overlooks the Bow River. Indigenous tourism operators say they are feeling hopeful as pandemic restrictions start to ease. (Terri Trembath/CBC - image credit)

Alberta's Indigenous tourism industry has been holding its third annual summit this week.

Speaking to an audience of 300 people, chair of the board for Indigenous Tourism Alberta (ITA), Brenda Holder's key message is focusing on a hopeful future with a strong strategy.

"We have analyzed and taken apart the state of the industry and hopefully started to reverse engineer a proper way for us to move forward," she said.

Members of the ITA and non-Indigenous attendees came to listen, take part in panel discussions and learn more about the economic viability of Indigenous tourism.

The sector is playing a key role in the province's overall tourism post-pandemic rebuilding phase, Holder says.

When COVID-19 first hit the province, the tourism sector was devastated by a loss of business, especially international visitors.

Terri Trembath/CBC
Terri Trembath/CBC

Authentic experiences hold the key

Holder, a Métis woman who operates Indigenous tour business Mahikan Trails, thinks there are real opportunities to capitalize on the varied experiences offered to tourists by Indigenous people, focusing not just on arts and crafts but also Indigenous culture and its ties to the land.

"There's culinary experiences, there's accommodation experiences, there's heritage sites — so there is a real wide variety. There's drummers and dancers," she said.

The summit is the third of its kind and has drawn people from across Alberta.

David Goldstein, CEO of Travel Alberta, says they have a three-year recovery plan and Indigenous tourism is playing a critical role.

"Those Indigenous stories are quite spectacular, told through, presented through, stood up through tourism product, which is one of the best teaching tools and one of the best experiential tools that we have," Goldstein said.

Before COVID-19 hit the industry, Goldstein says international travel accounted for roughly $2 billion. He says they hope to at least double that number in the next decade, post-COVID, and authentic Indigenous experiences are key.

The Indigenous Tourism Alberta Summit hosted at the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino wraps up Friday.

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