British Columbia

Indigenous tourism businesses booming in B.C. as visitors spend $705M a year

Indigenous tourism businesses are seeing rapid growth in B.C. as more international visitors seek experiences that bring them closer to Canadian culture, the province's Indigenous tourism association says.

Tourists spend more than $705M a year as they seek to learn more about Indigenous culture, association says

Dennis Whonoak Thomas, a wilderness guide and assistant manager for Takaya Tours, explains the connection the local First Nation has with Indian Arm. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Indigenous tourism businesses are seeing rapid growth in B.C. as more international visitors seek experiences that bring them closer to Canadian culture, the province's Indigenous tourism association says.

There are more than 200 Indigenous communities in B.C. and more than 400 Indigenous tourism businesses, from guided adventure tours to high-end culinary experiences, according to Indigenous Tourism B.C.

More than $705 million a year is spent on those businesses by visitors keen to find more about First Nations and their cultures, the association says. 

"It gives you the opportunity to walk in with an open mind and an open heart to learn, and want to learn who we are as people," said Frank Antoine with Indigenous Tourism B.C.

Paddlers on a Takaya First Nation canoe tour take a break from paddling in North Vancouver. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Experiences like Dennis Thomas's Takaya Tours are skyrocketing in popularity.

Thomas tells the story of his Tsleil-Waututh ancestors, where members of the nation hunted, fished and lived for thousands of years, while gliding through the waters of Indian Arm on a canoe.

"This is just another avenue for our people to actually let people know who we are as Tsleil-Waututh people, people of the inlet, and with our rich history here," said Thomas.

"That's what makes it so special for me: to actually be that cultural guide, having that in-depth knowledge, having that passion and having that relationship."

Hotels and lodging are also enjoying the high demand.

At Skwachàys Lodge in downtown Vancouver, rooms decorated with original artwork are already being booked into next summer.

"I think everyone's looking for an authentic experience, and I think they're looking for unique, authentic experiences," said Maggie Edwards, general manager of the hotel.

"I think that Indigenous cultural experiences are among the most unique that you can experience."

Burnadette Andrade from North Vancouver is one of the local paddlers on the Takaya First Nation canoe tour. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

They're also bringing locals closer to Canada's Indigenous culture and history.

North Vancouver resident Bernadette Andrade recently got the chance to go one of Thomas's canoe tours.

"As someone who's living on the unceded territories of the Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish nations, it's great for the family and everybody to get an idea of the culture that we're living on, the lands that we're living on, the people that were here before us," she said.

With files from Andrea Ross

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