Skift Take

Canada's Indigenous tourism sector is taking a step back after years of progress.

Canada’s Indigenous tourism groups are about to face a wave of layoffs and funding cuts in coming months. 

The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) is scaling down funding programs that support 10 provincial First Nations tourism bodies. 

“Three to five I estimate probably won’t survive very long unless other funding comes in from somewhere else,” said Keith Henry, CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.

The association worked with a budget of $15 million last year, with $10.5 million coming from various federal programs. This year, the government scaled back funding to $6.5 million.

ITAC’s staff of 40 will be cut by half by September. “ITAC won’t disappear, but it’ll feel like we started like 10 years ago with a handful of staff and some policy people and just trying to advocate,” said Henry.

Canadian tourism had a good year last year, generating a record $113 billion in revenue in 2023 — up from $105 billion in 2019. The country aspires to drive tourism revenues to $160 billion a year by 2030. (The numbers are in Canadian dollars.)

But it won’t be smooth sailing. The number of tourism businesses declined marginally last year. “There were about 1.5% fewer tourism businesses in Canada in 2023 than in 2019, which speaks to the impact,” Destination Canada CEO Marsha Walden told Skift in April. One possible reason is that about 20% of businesses are struggling to pay back their pandemic relief loans to the federal government. 

Over the past few years, Indigenous tourism has become an increasingly popular attraction in Canada. About 40% of Americans say they’d like to have an Indigenous tourism experience, Walden said.

ITAC’s goal is to grow Indigenous tourism into a $6 billion industry by 2030. Henry isn’t changing that goal.

“I still believe we’re the right organization and right set of networks to help that,” he said. “It’s just a wait and see if we can find our way to triage through this mess right now.” 

Funding Programs to be Cut or Scaled Back

  • Territorial Indigenous Capacity — financial support organizations conduct assessments around the impact of major projects on communities.
  • Micro and Small Business Stream — helps Indigenous tourism businesses recover from the pandemic.
  • Original Original — accreditation that verifies the authenticity of Indigenous tourism products and experiences.

Building an International Tourism Body

Despite their financial troubles, Henry said ITAC isn’t cutting back its investment in the newly formed Destination Original International Tourism, a global body that will promote and advocate Indigenous tourism.

In February, the heads of national tourism groups in Canada, the U.S. and New Zealand announced the formation of the association at the International Indigenous Tourism Conference in Ottawa, Canada.

“We’re still trying to get that going by October,” he said. “That’s our goal.”


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Tags: canada, indigenous tourism, tourism

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