COAST SALISH TERRITORY, B.C. — With the COVID-19 pandemic shifting travel domestically in 2020 — and more than likely also for 2021 — Indigenous-tourism businesses can significantly grow their local Canadian traveller base, according to a study by Insignia Marketing Research.
The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) commissioned Insignia earlier this year to conduct a study aimed at understanding both the relevance and potential relevance of Indigenous tourism and cultural experiences within the domestic-travel market. The survey’s findings show COVID-19 disruption has created an unprecedented, industry-wide opportunity for Indigenous tourism and cultural experiences.
Conducted in August, the market research noted COVID-19 has induced travel-related attitudinal and behavioural shifts that have made Indigenous experiences more favourable to the Canadian domestic visitor. The study also determined, however, that Indigenous-tourism experiences were not yet top-of-mind with travellers who were now turning to explore Canada, while international borders remain closed.
Together, these findings indicate that the ideal time is now to leverage these shifts by supporting and showcasing ITAC and its members. This supports the need to continue rolling out a comprehensive domestic awareness and education campaign — leveraging the launch of Destination Indigenous and this summer’s Escape From Home marketing campaign — as originally outlined in ITAC’s four-year, $50 million Strategic Recovery Plan presented in March.
“Although COVID-19 has been devastating to our Indigenous-tourism operators, as it has been for most tourism operators across Canada, it’s heartening to know demand among local travellers has grown for Indigenous-tourism experiences,” says Keith Henry, ITAC’s president and CEO. “In the past, Indigenous tourism has been a huge draw for international visitors but domestically we have been overlooked. COVID-19 has caused a shift in people’s attitudes toward travel; what they are looking for in a destination or experience is more aligned with the authentic, down-to-earth, mindful experiences that our members offer across the country.”
With the report finding that travellers believe Indigenous experiences can outperform non-Indigenous ones and they’re actively searching for “hidden gems,” the biggest obstacle is that many travellers do not have a clear idea of what Indigenous tourism and cultural experiences are or where/how to find them. These findings will be of great help to ITAC’s marketing department shape their upcoming consumer campaign, which will again inspire locals and Canadians to travel and learn about Indigenous people and experiences.
It is in this spirit that ITAC has put forth requests for federal and provincial funding to support the Strategic Recovery Plan to respond, recover and rebuild the Indigenous-tourism industry across Canada to levels experienced in 2019 by 2024.
“It’s critical that the Government of Canada support our full recovery plan to be able to train, educate and execute on key items within the research as this will be vital for the survival of our industry,” says Henry. Until then, ITAC will continue to advocate for Indigenous-led solutions and stimulus funding that can save the Indigenous-tourism sector from collapse, help it recover and develop resilience against further impacts from COVID-19.