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Cultural experiences fastest growing sector of British Columbia tourism

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Tourism markets around the world are undergoing drastic changes to adjust to the new economic realities facing the tourism industry. In British Columbia, however, operators of aboriginal tourism and cultural experiences have found themselves ready to take advantage of changing guest expectations and are gradually emerging as leaders in the tourism industry.

Keith Henry, CEO of the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia (AtBC), says the aboriginal cultural tourism industry is uniquely suited to benefit from changing trends as travelers look more for “experiential” and cultural travel experiences.

“Aboriginal tourism experiences in British Columbia are not only diverse, but provide a culturally authentic opportunity to learn about the traditions, practices and first peoples in this province. Travelers are seeking out immersive, cultural experiences many of our operators perfected over the years. As our industry recovers from a global slowdown, I don’t have a doubt aboriginal tourism is going to be regarded as one of British Columbia’s tourism success stories.”

AtBC recently commissioned a study for its Annual General Meeting from the Centre for Tourism Policy and Research at Simon Fraser University. Compiled by Director Dr. Peter Williams, the report makes the following estimates about aboriginal tourism’s performance in British Columbia:

  • More visitors during rough times: Visits to aboriginal tourism operations increased 67 percent between 2006 and 2009, while overall provincial tourism flows remained depressed during this time.

  • Even more visitors forecast: By 2012, aboriginal tourism traffic is expected to reach 3.8 million visitor nights – double 2005 levels.

  • Visitors stay longer, spend more: Visitors to aboriginal tourism operators tend to spend the same amount per day as other overnight travelers. However, their trips are about 65 percent longer, meaning their overall expenditures are more.

  • Visitors spending more in tough times: Despite lower overall provincial expenditures, aboriginal tourism visitors collectively spent 89 percent more in 2009 than in 2006.

  • More employers, more jobs: Approximately 1,700 full-time and 310 part-time aboriginal tourism jobs existed in 2009. This is a 16 percent increase over 2006 levels.

“While the aboriginal tourism industry in British Columbia is still a relatively small sector, it has made some very significant strides in a very short period of time,” Williams said. “That’s impressive and a good example of how the demand for cultural tourism experiences is taking hold with today’s travelers. BC’s tourism industry should take note. Aboriginal tourism operators have found a winning niche in a very competitive marketplace.”

“Cultural tourism has been a great fit for aboriginal tourism operators in B.C.,” said Sophie Pierre, chair of the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia, and involved with the St. Eugene Mission Resort in Cranbrook. “This interest in our culture has given tourism operators, like myself, the opportunity to develop profitable business plans that celebrate our traditions, provide employment for our communities and help revitalize our culture for younger generations.”

The 60 stakeholders with AtBC range from gallery curators to jet boat guides, wineries and cultural interpretative experiences and are located in every corner of the province. Each member is an aboriginal-owned business that guarantees cultural authenticity as part of its attraction. More information about the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia is available online.