North

Cree tourism to get boost from creation of majority Cree-owned travel agency

In the hopes of making it easier for travellers to discover the James Bay region, the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association has helped launch a majority Cree-owned travel agency: Eeyou Istchee Baie James Travel.

Eeyou Istchee Baie James Travel explained at tourism association’s annual general assembly

The Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association has helped launch a new travel agency - Eeyou Istchee Baie James Travel - to help create packages and help businesses like Nuuhchimi Wiinuu Cree Cultural Tours (pictured), near Oujé-Bougoumou. (Nuuhchimi Wiinuu Cree Cultural Tours/Willy Bosum)

In the hopes of making it easier for travellers to discover the James Bay region, the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association has helped launch a majority Cree-owned travel agency: Eeyou Istchee Baie James Travel.

The agency is a one-stop shop to help tourists book travel, hotels, and cultural and outdoor activities in the Eeyou Istchee and Jamisien regions, according to Robin McGinley, executive director of the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association and Eeyou Istchee Tourism.

"We are doing it so we can get out in the market and shift from a cottage industry to a real sustainable tourism industry in Eeyou Istchee," she said.

The creation of the agency was identified in the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement signed in 1975 and finally incorporated in 2017. Its mandate was explained to tourism association members Tuesday at their annual general assembly in Chisasibi, Que. 

McGinley says Eeyou Istchee Baie James Travel will help a growing number of tourism businesses in the Cree communities become sustainable, with one of the mandates being the development of tourism packages of three, four and seven-day vacations that can be marketed internationally. 

The Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association is holding its annual general assembly in Chisasibi until July 11. Members learned Tuesday how Eeyou Istchee Baie James Travel can help them attract tourists. (Susan Bell/CBC)

"Just like Mexico [and] just like Cuba. That's what they do all over the place," said McGinley. 

"It's important because there is so much competition around the world for northern tourism. People don't know Eeyou Istchee." 

The agency is also a collaboration with regional tourism partners, such as Tourisme Baie James, according to Roch Anctil,  executive director of Eeyou Istchee Baie James Travel.

He says interest in visiting the Cree communities is definitely up, particularly among non-Indigenous Quebecers. He says in the past many francophones were afraid about whether they would be welcome. 

"Of course [visitors] learned about the Hydro Quebec [hydroelectric] installations. [But now] they are not just asking for that. Now they want to meet with the Cree people who have lived here for thousands of years."

Statistics collected by Eeyou Istchee Tourism and Tourisme Baie James and released at the end of 2018 showed an increase of 2.2 per cent in hotel stays in the James Bay region, with 5.7 per cent and 5 per cent increases for August and September. The provincial increase was, on average, 0.4 per cent, according to the release.

The annual general assembly continues until July 11. 

Shammy Adventures, an eco-tourism site that opened in 2016 near the Cree community of Wemindji. A majority Cree-owned travel agency has been created to help create packages and book tourists. (Mathieu Dupuis)