The COVID-19 pandemic had an unprecedented effect on tourism businesses in Kahnawake and across Canada, and the continued concern about the more-easily-transmitted Delta variant of the virus hasn’t done the tourism economy any favours after more than 17 months of lockdown and transmission concerns, a local tourism development agent said last week.
“If you consider that our museums have been closed the whole time, our welcome center only re-opened in July and foot traffic is really still quite low, you can see how devastating the whole thing has been for tourism businesses,” Kahnawake Welcome Center tourism-development agent Kimberly Cross said. “Other than golf – which is booming, because it’s one of the only things you could go and do – we have seen restaurants, the gaming establishments and boutiques all struggling during this time.”
Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) CEO Keith Henry echoed that sentiment.
Statistics show that Indigenous tourism in Canada was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 40,000 employees in the sector across Canada and brought in an estimated $1.86B in direct gross domestic product (GDP) prior to the pandemic, while those numbers dropped to 10,600 employees and a mere $580 million in direct GDP now.
“Based on engaging with operators and last year's research, when COVID-19 first hit, we knew that the negative impacts of the pandemic were devastating to our Indigenous businesses, as it has been for all tourism operators across the country,” Henry said. “We have continued to work and advocate with the federal government, as well as provincial governments through our provincial/territorial Indigenous partners, on Indigenous-led solutions. Research like this is important to gauge the health of our industry with concrete data, even if it shows our greatest fears playing out, including over $1 billion worth of sales lost. This is devastating for Indigenous entrepreneurs, nations and communities from coast to coast to coast who rely heavily on tourism for cultural revitalization and economic diversification.”
Henry called for more government support of the embattled Indigenous Tourism industry.
“Our future may look uncertain but it’s clear that the sector’s path to recovery and renewal will require a series of tailored policy responses to best address the vastly different realities of our industries' diverse businesses. This is why we’ve been advocating for Indigenous-led solutions for the past 18 months. We now need our partners and government to step up if we want to see Indigenous tourism continue. Let’s all hope that tourism recovery and more specifically Indigenous tourism becomes a key topic,” in government, Henry said.
Cross said the future for Indigenous tourism businesses doesn’t get any easier with some restrictions being removed.
“The struggle for Kahnawake tourism businesses and almost across the board is to find employees,” she said. “There’s a labour shortage and a lot of people would rather work from home, but for tourism businesses, that’s sort of impossible, so that’s a big struggle that we think will be a problem for some time going forward,” she said.
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase