Indigenous

Indigenous tourism businesses feeling the bite from COVID-19

Indigenous tourism businesses are being impacted by COVID-19 but are also looking for new ways to make revenue.

Pandemic has had 'devastating' impact on the industry, says Indigenous Tourism B.C.

Tsleil-Waututh First Nation owned business Takaya Tours is an eco-tourism adventure company that specializes in interpretive ocean going canoe tours. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Indigenous tourism businesses are being impacted by COVID-19 but are also looking for new ways to make revenue.

Tsleil-Waututh Nation-owned business Takaya Tours in North Vancouver is an eco-tourism adventure company that specializes in interpretive ocean-going canoe tours.

Since March it has had to cancel tours resulting in a loss of $60,000.

"Trying to create revenue when we can't do cultural tours is kind of hard," said Dennis Thomas, senior business development manager of Takaya Tours.

This year is Takaya Tours's 20th annniversary. It usually does about 160 tours in its seasonal operational period of six to seven months. 

The business is focusing on alternate revenue generators and launching an apparel line while the tours remain cancelled. 

The business offers kayak rentals through its paddling centre, and hopes to open it up next week for people wanting to get outdoors while staying apart from others.

"It's a perfect sort of scenario when you want to try and physically distance yourself," said Thomas.

"It's a place of medicine for us, being on the water as Indigenous peoples, especially as Coast Salish. I think the people that were cooped up for two months that are really avid outdoor enthusiasts would love to actually get out in a kayak."

Takaya Tours is one of 71 Indigenous tourism businesses in B.C. that will be receiving a $5,000 grant from a $300,000 emergency relief fund through Indigenous Tourism B.C. (ITBC). 

Though Indigenous tourism is relatively new in Canada, it's been around in B.C. for about 20 years and the pandemic has had a "devastating" impact on the industry, according to Paula Amos, ITBC's chief marketing and development officer.

An ITBC survey in March said 91 per cent of its member businesses had reduced hours of operation or closed and 78 per cent had laid off employees. 

But Amos said many are trying new things to keep staff working.

"We're seeing some really innovative activities, which is exciting to see that they're making this quick pivot so that they can sustain themselves," said Amos. 

She said the longer the impact goes on for, the longer the recovery will take.

"As economies are starting to restart we are looking at the recovery plan, but it's going to be a while," said Amos. 

She said recovery may take two to three years.

About the Author

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at rhiannon.johnson@cbc.ca and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.

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