Canada’s indigenous tourism operators call for more assistance amid pandemic

Photo of a guided canoe trips through British Columbia’s Secwepemc Nation.Moccasin Trails’ Business Achievement Award must seem like ancient history to co-owners Greg Hopf and Frank Antoine. Part of the fastest-growing segment of the Canadian travel industry, the two-year-old small business was earning more than $15,000 a month when it won the All Nations Trust Co.’s 2019 Tourism Award for its guided canoe trips through British Columbia’s Secwepemc Nation.

Now, less than six months later, “cancellations continue, with no end in sight,” Hopf says. “At this pace, we may lose not only our business, but our homes and livelihood.”

This kind of bleakness blankets recent feedback collected by the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC), which is joining many of its 700 members in calling on the federal government to make COVID-19 assistance programs more accessible to Indigenous ventures. While the pandemic is causing unprecedented strife across the tourism industry, the suffering of Canada’s once-booming Indigenous operations – which accounted for nearly $2-billion in revenue last year, according to ITAC – appears especially acute.

“We’re not asking for special treatment,” says ITAC president and CEO Keith Henry, who explains that Indigenous operations face pandemic-related challenges others don’t. For one thing, most of the 500-plus startups that have opened over the past five years are family-run seasonal businesses that don’t qualify for the federal Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP), which will provide up to $65-billion in financial support to Canadian businesses, because they have yet to show profits, payroll expenses or revenue losses stemming from COVID-19. And as Hopf points out, “We cannot lay off staff, because we are the staff.”

This is an excerpt from an article by Adam Bisby, originally published on The Globe And Mail

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