Tourism is an ever-increasing business throughout aboriginal communities across North America, and British Columbia has been documenting this growth for the past 20 years through the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia (ATABC). In the past 10 years alone business in British Columbia has increased 85 percent.
This non-profit association is “committed to growing and promoting a sustainable, culturally rich aboriginal tourism industry,” their website states. As a non-profit, they receive funding from both the provincial and federal governments. They report that businesses within their association now support 3,300 full time positions and expect that in the next five years cultural tourism within B.C. will see 2.2 million visitors and that $1.5 billion will be spent each year on trips which include aboriginal experiences.
ATABC represents some 300 aboriginal businesses and First Nations communities across British Columbia. Paula Amos, one of the directors, explains that 91 of those businesses provide actual aboriginal tourism experiences. Her ancestry is Squamish Nation on her mother’s side and Hesquiaht from her father, two of the 203 nations in B.C., the most diverse province in the country. She pointed out that the association serves as a one-stop resource for persons or communities who either have a tourism business or are thinking of starting such a business.
“One in four tourists is looking for an aboriginal experience,” Paula said. “There’s a wide range. Haida Gwai, as an example, is on everybody’s bucket list. We try to make it as easy as possible for visitors to include an aboriginal experience in their travels.”
Their website is extensive and informative with a variety of sections including “Things to do” which includes such things as art and culture, food and wine, wildlife tours, etc. Another section features “Events” and covers what is taking place and the dates. By looking over the calendar, there always seems to be something going on for the tourists and community. These events and more help direct visitors to events throughout British Columbia which in turn brings income to the sponsors.
Still another section tells of “packages” which include rooms, meals, etc. Examples include a package to South Okanogan for a Wine and Culture Getaway. Five nights is included for $820. Another is a South Island Culture and Nature Adventure; 6 nights for $1495. This includes a float plane ride, paddling a traditional dugout canoe, whale watching, visiting a virgin rain forest and meeting with artisans. An equally large adventure is entitled Whales, Bears, Cities, and First Nations Culture, a 9-night adventure for $1765.
New businesses are continually being added. Recent examples include two new wineries being opened in the Okanogan region. A new restaurant will open this summer in Vancouver named Big Heart Bannock. The Kwa’lilas Hotel recently opened on the north end of Vancouver Island. “It’s beautiful,” Paula added. “We took an old hotel in Port Hardy and renovated it so now it’s all First Nations artwork and owned by the First Nations community. It’s the only 3 or 4 star hotel in that region.”
ATABC has a three-tier program while working with communities interested in tourism. Paula explained the first tier is to explain the benefits of tourism, and such things as building community leaders, economics, and the like. Tier two is working with individual businesses to get them up to standards to be market ready and perhaps developing a website. “We have a good record of working with our stake holders to get them market ready,” Paula added. Tier 3 can build them up to export ready, “that’s when they want to work with international markets.”
ATABC travels to out of country trade shows to promote their members businesses. “We do the World Travel Markets in the UK, the IGB in Germany, and a few of the Asia travel shows,” Paula explained. Despite that, “the largest number would be from the U.S. coming into Canada. “Our biggest market is our own back yard: British Columbia, Alberta, and Washington State, what we call the ‘rubber tire traffic.’ The U.S. is definitely our biggest market!”
That interest in aboriginal tourism by U.S. residents might well apply to tribes within the U.S. as well. It’s something to consider.