Travel and togetherness drive the tourism industry. As careful planning, travel restrictions, and social distancing became the new normal in 2020, Indigenous Tourism BC and our Stakeholders embarked on a path of learning with tourism industry partners and allies. We continue to navigate these new waters, trusting that our shared knowledge and response will guide us toward the necessary actions and changes required to sustain the Indigenous tourism industry during the pandemic.
Two-way communication and active engagement became more critical than ever. In the mission to develop informed and flexible responses to the seemingly ever-changing environment, with all of its new challenges and opportunities, ITBC maintains consistent, ongoing communication with Indigenous, Federal, Provincial, tourism, and health organizations.
Since March 2020, ITBC has prioritized Stakeholder engagement with one-on-one telephone calls, direct emails, and an open invitation to reach out to us with all questions and concerns. We continue to conduct ongoing surveys to gather consistent data and share relevant resources through our e-newsletter and social media. Biweekly Stakeholder calls featuring guest speakers allow us to share crucial COVID-19 business information. A frequently updated COVID-19 business resource page on our corporate website shares information specific to Indigenous tourism businesses.
Our focus throughout the summer and fall was connecting with Stakeholders to understand better how they and their businesses were doing. We learned that 91% of the Indigenous Tourism BC Stakeholders had to close or operate in a limited capacity.
We discussed their pandemic experiences as Indigenous tourism operators and identified what they would like to see in the future and ways for ITBC to support them. One-on-one meetings with Stakeholders revealed how small to medium businesses in various tourism sectors responded to the pandemic and helped us understand their requirements for successful operation in 2021.
Necessary pivots toward digital communication and e-commerce inspired the introduction of our Video Outreach Program. We safely visited over 25 businesses this summer and fall to create inspiring videos and photography for our Stakeholders highlighting their unique experiences and encouraging responsible travel. The collaboration with our Stakeholders and tourism industry partners allowed us to produce videos that tell the story of innovation during these trying times, and also generated fresh content for ITBC’s recovery marketing in 2021.
In April 2020, Phase One of the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund Program launched. ITBC reprofiled $300,000 from the development and marketing departments to support the Indigenous tourism industry. This grant provided emergency relief to 72 Indigenous tourism businesses to address the immediate and short-term needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In July 2020, Indigenous Tourism BC was allocated $400,000 by Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) to deliver Phase Two of the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Funds Program for market-ready Indigenous tourism businesses to address immediate and short-term needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. We received applications from every tourism region in the province, with funds awarded to 67 Indigenous tourism businesses in Phase Two.
In September 2020, Indigenous Services Canada, Aboriginal Financial Institutions, and ITBC partnered for the delivery of the $5 million Tourism and Hospitality Fund through the Indigenous Community Business Fund (ICBF). ICBF provided non-repayable grant contributions of up to $250,000 to Indigenous communities to support their community-owned tourism and hospitality businesses whose revenues had been affected by COVID-19.
ITBC implemented a significant recovery marketing campaign in line with the Province of BC’s Re-Start Plan. Working with our partners such as Destination BC, Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, Regional Destination Marketing Organizations and others, ITBC successfully supported the promotion of the Indigenous tourism industry and businesses with the following tactics:
Indigenous Tourism BC has been working with partners within BC and across Canada to share what we have learned about the impacts of COVID-19 and to support collaborative efforts to manage the uncertainty and financial loss of Indigenous tourism businesses during this crisis.
We know from our Stakeholders that more support is required to survive post-COVID-19. For Indigenous Tourism BC, partnership and collaboration with our Indigenous, Federal, Provincial, tourism and health organizations will be imperative. Our goal is to share what we are learning about the impact to Indigenous tourism business, and work with partners as we move into the recovery phase.
ITBC has been in consistent communication with
We are still learning the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous tourism businesses and, as tourism businesses in BC, including gas stations, accommodations, resorts, RV parks and campgrounds, transportation services, outdoor adventures, retail stores and gift shops, festivals and major events, artist studios, restaurants and culinary operations, outdoor adventures, golf, heritage sites, museums, and cultural centres.
Indigenous Tourism BC works with 125 Market Ready Stakeholders and the majority are small to medium sized enterprises. They are sole proprietorships, family owned partnerships, limited partnerships, corporations and community-owned businesses. Half of these businesses operate year-round, and half of them operate on a seasonal basis from May to October.
Indigenous Tourism BC is reviewing the gaps that Stakeholders are experiencing with financial relief dollars that are now available, and also tracking short and long term needs that will be required for full business recovery.
Indigenous Tourism BC recommends three important steps: