In the photo, Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) Chief Clarence Louie speaks to the first national Aboriginal Tourism Conference, at the OIB's Nk'Mip Resort in south-central British Columbia. (TOTA photo)
Canada's first national Aboriginal Tourism Conference wrapped up in Osoyoos, B.C. on March 30 with 180 participants from across the country having shared details of their growing industry and considered ways to increase collaboration to develop new high-quality Aboriginal tourism destinations that will attract more visitors from around the world.
The three-day conference – hosted by the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia (AtBC), the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association (TOTA), and the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) – heard inspiring speeches about successful world-class Aboriginal tourism products across the county.
Conference co-chairs AtBC CEO Keith Henry and TOTA CEO Glenn Mandziuk say they heard the message during the groundbreaking conference that the growth of Aboriginal cultural tourism will be driven by more partnerships, a more strategic approach, and the development of high-quality destinations that tell the story of First Nations people in an authentic way – providing rich, memorable experiences for Canadian and international visitors.
"This conference exceeded our expectations – both in attendance and energy," Henry says. "To have 180 people attend from across the country including Ontario, Alberta, B.C., Nunavut and the Northwest Territories – is fantastic, and their commitment to expanding the Aboriginal tourism sector is tremendous. We were also pleased as roughly 1,700 individuals tuned in to watch a live broadcast online that was set up to invite the public to watch our industry at work."
He adds, "People from around the world want to come to Canada and see and experience Aboriginal culture and heritage, and we are gearing up to develop and market an increasing number of authentic experiences."
Henry says he expects this conference will spark more regional and provincial networking and strategies to help First Nations communities and entrepreneurs adopt best practices as they develop their cultural tourism businesses, attractions, events, and tourism packages.
He presented details of AtBC's recently launched new 5-Year Plan, entitled The Next Phase 2012-2017, which notes that Aboriginal tourism revenue in B.C. more than doubled in five years – rising to $42 million in 2011, up from $20 million in 2006. The AtBC Plan calls for more investment, collaboration and quality assurance to continue to grow the sector, which is forecasted to be $68 million by 2017 and provide about 4,000 jobs to Aboriginal people.
Mandziuk says TOTA is working closely with AtBC to help develop a regional Aboriginal tourism strategy for the Thompson Okanagan, a portion of B.C.'s Southern Interior the size of Ireland.
"The new 10-Year Regional Tourism Strategy developed by our stakeholders identifies Aboriginal cultural tourism as a key area that we need to support and help to grow," Mandziuk says. "We have world-class First Nations destinations in the region – like the Osoyoos Indian Band's Nk'Mip Resort and the Little Shuswap Indian Band's Quaaout Lodge & Talking Rock Golf Golf Course – and we want to support First Nations' development of more destinations and experiences," he adds. "Travellers from Europe, Asia and America want to see and learn about the unique Interior Salish culture, and attracting more visitors will be good for all parts of the tourism industry."
During this national conference, TOTA held a workshop with 35 of its Aboriginal tourism stakeholders to map out new ways to promote networking and tourism product development throughout the region.
OIB Chief Clarence Louie, a national leader in Aboriginal tourism and economic development, told the conference he is proud when he visits high-quality Aboriginal businesses and tourism destinations across Canada because he knows that economic success is the route to independence and self-sufficiency for First Nations.
"You can't talk about self-government if you don't have your own jobs and your own businesses," Chief Louie said, adding that tourism businesses can play a big role in that economic development. His own band has just 200 employment-age adults, but it employs 700 people in its nine businesses. "In the past 10 years First Nations have generated more income and more jobs than they did in the previous 100 years." He said they path to success for Aboriginal businesses is setting high standards, with a professional approach and attention to details.
Other speakers at the Aboriginal Tourism Conference included: Dr. Peter Williams, Director of Simon Fraser University's Centre for Tourism Policy and Research; Chris Bower, General Manager of OIB's Nk'Mip Resort; Deneen Allen, President of Pure North Sustainable Tourism Development; Casey Vanden Heuvel, Executive Director of the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre; and Member of Parliament Joyce Murray, Liberal Critic for Small Business & Tourism.
Murray gave the conference the Liberal Party's view of some of the challenges and key issues for the development and international marketing of Aboriginal tourism. "It's very important that we ensure we have a thriving Aboriginal tourism industry," Murray added, noting there is worldwide demand from travellers who want to know more about First Nations culture. "A regional strategy is a very important concept, because through partnerships you can create a critical mass, and that is a much more effective approach." Murray took the opportunity at the conference to meet a number of the participants and hear about Aboriginal tourism success stories from across Canada.
Conference Co-Chair and AtBC CEO Keith Henry is pictured at right.
AtBC presented its 2012 Aboriginal Tourism Awards at a gala banquet on the evening of March 29. Winners were: Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (in Whistler) for 'Cultural Centres & Attractions'; Sasquatch Crossing Eco Lodge (in Agassiz) for 'Outstanding Accommodations'; Cariboo Chilcotin Jet Boat Adventures (in Williams Lake) and Takaya Tours (in North Vancouver) co-winners for 'Outdoor Adventure'; Grouse Mountain (in North Vancouver) for 'Industry Partner'; Salmon-n-Bannock Bistro (in Vancouver) for 'Food & Beverage'; Khot-la-cha Art Gallery & Gift Shop (in North Vancouver) for 'Retail'; and Le-la-la Dancers at the Klahowya Village in Stanley Park (in Vancouver) for 'Artist & Entertainment'.
The conference used a new technology from Broadcast Live, an Aboriginal-owned North Vancouver company, to present taped and live-streamed video of its sessions online at: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/286182/events/284151.
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FOR INFORMATION CONTACT:
Keith Henry, CEO
Aboriginal Tourism Assn of BC (AtBC)
Tel: 604-921-1070 ext 222 Email: email@example.com
Glenn Mandziuk, CEO
Thompson Okanagan Tourism Assn (TOTA)
Tel: 250-860-5999 ext 216 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org