The Gwaii Haanas legacy totem pole is seen after being raised in Windy Bay, B.C., on Lyell Island in Haida Gwaii on August 15, 2013. As the COVID-19 pandemic forces remote British Columbia communities to close their borders to outsiders, Indigenous tourism companies along the coast say the federal government is leaving them behind. Tours for Haida Gwaii are normally booked well in advance due to high demand and the quota system placed on the area. The remoteness of the region also means it has a shorter tourism high season than other locations in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The Gwaii Haanas legacy totem pole is seen after being raised in Windy Bay, B.C., on Lyell Island in Haida Gwaii on August 15, 2013. As the COVID-19 pandemic forces remote British Columbia communities to close their borders to outsiders, Indigenous tourism companies along the coast say the federal government is leaving them behind. Tours for Haida Gwaii are normally booked well in advance due to high demand and the quota system placed on the area. The remoteness of the region also means it has a shorter tourism high season than other locations in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Indigenous tourism being ignored by federal government, B.C. operators say

Tourism associations say little to nothing has been done to help their sector during the COVID-19 pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic forces remote British Columbia communities to close their borders to outsiders, Indigenous tourism companies along the coast say the federal government is leaving them behind.

Tours for Haida Gwaii are normally booked well in advance due to high demand and the quota system placed on the area. The remoteness of the region also means it has a shorter tourism high season than other locations in the province.

But the pandemic has forced tourism companies in the area to shut down their operations, with little economic relief for their owners.

“The current packages offered by the Canadian government don’t meet the need of most operators,” said James Cowpar, with Haida Style Expeditions, a Haida-owned tourism company specializing in cultural eco-tours. “Anything is better than nothing but as it stands, our industry has fell through the cracks.”

Cowpar said all of his tours planned for May have been cancelled, resulting in $210,000 in lost deposits and preventing him from hiring staff.

Haida Style has operated for six years, turning a profit every year, he added, making this shutdown extra hard to swallow.

“It’s devastating,” said Mike Willie, the owner of Sea Wolf Adventures, a company that specializes in eco-tours around Haida Gwaii. “So far, we’re not seeing the funds that are flowing through the mainstream ways, like the Business Development Bank of Canada.”

Willie estimated he’s lost $130,000 in deposits so far – along with the threat of losing future earnings due to a shortened or cancelled summer tourism season.

“It’s the fact of not knowing,” he said. “Like other entrepreneurs, we’re up and down with our feelings. We’re optimistic and then we’re not. We’re on this roller coaster of not knowing whether we’re going to have a season or not.”

Indigenous tourism related business generated more than $700 million in direct gross output in B.C. with the approximately 401 companies creating more than 7,400 full-time jobs in 2017, according to Indigenous Tourism B.C.

But tourism associations say little to nothing has been done to help their sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a complete crisis,” said Keith Henry, the president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC).

Indigenous tourism contributed more than $2 billion in direct gross domestic product in 2019, Henry said, after nearly two decades of steady growth.

Speaking in late March, Tourism Minister Melanie Joly said Indigenous tourism was outpacing the tourism industry across the country.

But due to the relatively young age of these businesses, combined with a lack of assets and headquartering on reserves, Indigenous tourism companies aren’t able to access services from large-scale banks and financial institutions, Henry added.

“We’re going to be completely wiped out,” he said. “The last 15 years of hard work are completely gone in a matter of weeks.”

Henry was in Ottawa last week appearing before the Standing Committee on Finance, asking for a $557 million stimulus fund.

Tourism Minister Melanie Joly previously said the federal government is working on a stimulus package to assist Indigenous tourism operators.

“I know the sector is extremely resilient. I think that yes it was a sector that was first hit, but I think it will be one of the first to bounce back,” Joly said in a Facebook live video organized by ITAC in March.

Representatives from Joly’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the state of such a package.

Henry said he’s less optimistic for support as time passes.

“I would say the response wasn’t overwhelmingly positive,” he said about his presentation to the committee. “Today there’s been more announcements, this week there’s been more announcements and I’m still yet to hear for Indigenous businesses.”

Businesses on the ground said they’re looking to weather the storm.

“We’re in it for the long haul. We’ll have to see it that Indigenous tourism survives,” said Cowpar. “Everybody feels trapped right now, but some would say that it’s something we’re used to living in reserves.”

READ MORE: Petition asking to restrict travel to Vancouver Island garners thousands of signatures

READ MORE: Tourism industry advocate calls for emergency fund in wake of COVID-19 cancellations

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusTourism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
211 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

Currently, there are 875 active cases of the virus in the region

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. As of April 19, more than 230,000 doses have been administered across the Interior Health region. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
More than 230K doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered across Interior Health

A total of 220,216 first doses and 13,775 second doses have been given to residents across the B.C. Interior

The City of Penticton is beginning work to install gates at the 200 Block breezeway on Main Street. (Dustin Godfrey/Western News file)
Penticton breezeway closed while city installs ‘decorative’ gates

The gates, estimated to cost $20k, are being installed to prevent ‘unwanted activity’

Louise with another load of bottles for ALERT. This super volunteer helps ALERT in so many ways. (Submitted)
Meet Penticton super volunteer Louise Hivon

Louise spearheads ALERT’s recycling fundraising, collecting bottles from anyone, everywhere

Oliver
A couple more South Okanagan schools with COVID-19 exposures

Penticton Christian School adds more exposure days, Oliver Elementary new on the list

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

A strange odour at a West Kelowna apartment building prompted the evacuation of 150 residents on Sunday morning, April 18. (Aaron Hemens - Capital News)
‘Do not occupy’ order lifted, residents of West Kelowna apartment allowed to return home

The building was evacuated early Sunday morning due to a strange smell

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

Vernon Search and Rescue’s helicopter team was asked to be on standby to rescue a missing hiker in Naramata. (Air Rescue One/VSAR photo)
Lost hiker rescued in Okanagan Mountain Park

COSAR, PENSAR, and VSAR worked together to rescue a hiker in Okanagan Mountain Park

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Increased COVID-19 activity brings vaccine clinic to Enderby

Registration opens Tuesday, April 20 for May clinic for anyone over the age of 18

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

courts
Penticton man guilty of assaulting young boys

Bryan Lamb was found guilty of two counts of assault

Abandoned Rail Brewing Company, located at 1220 Davenport Ave. on the KVR trail, has applied to the City of Penticton for a manufacturing facility and lounge endorsement. The city will review the application in their April 20, 2021 council meeting. (City of Penticton photo)
A new brewery could be coming to the KVR trail in the South Okanagan

The patio would seat up to 113 just 10 feet from the trail

Most Read