Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
About 300 Indigenous tourism businesses are expected to benefit from new federal funding that was announced this past week.
Soraya Martinez Ferrada, the minister of tourism, announced details of $10 million in funding via the Indigenous Tourism Fund’s Micro and Small Business Stream.
Through this funding, businesses can access up to $25,000 each in a non-repayable contribution.
“As travellers crave authentic experiences, Indigenous tourism businesses are perfectly positioned to thrive in the years to come,” said Ferrada. “That's why the growth of Indigenous tourism is one of my top priorities as minister.”
She said the latest funding announcement will translate into concrete support for smaller Indigenous businesses in the tourism industry.
“We'll keep working with First Nations, Inuit and Métis stakeholders to support Indigenous tourism because it creates jobs, advances self-determination and helps us walk the road of reconciliation together,” she said.
The Canadian government had created a $20 million Indigenous Tourism Fund, which was first announced in its 2022 budget.
“This is actually the first $10 million of that $20 million,” said Keith Henry, the president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC). It’s the organization that will distribute the funds through its provincial and territorial associations.
“It’s taken us quite a long time for us to negotiate getting that first $10 million. We’re now working with the minister’s office hoping we can advance the second $10 million. We don’t know exactly how that is going to unfold.”
He said he’s hoping to clarify that by next month, he said. “Ideally, we’d like to see this done before the end of this fiscal year, which is March 31. I believe we should have something in order, I would say, within the next 60 days.”
Henry is pleased businesses can now apply for a share of the $10 million in funding announced on Nov. 17.
“It’s basically effective now and it will be for the next 18 months, give or take, until the end of March 2025,” he said. “It’s designed to provide Indigenous tourism businesses up to $25,000 in investment support to continue developing their market and their export readiness.”
ITAC officials will review funding applications on a first come, first served basis. But the association has established target goals for each province and territory as well.
For example, Ontario, the province with the most Indigenous tourism businesses, will receive $2 million of the $10 million in funding. British Columbia businesses will receive about $1.3 million of the fund.
Henry anticipates not all of those businesses who apply for funding will get the grant.
“Typically, when we’ve run grant or investment programs it’s not unusual for us to have at least 600 to 1,000 applicants,” he said. “It sounds like a big number, $10 million, but when you’re trying to help about 300 businesses, it’s not. So, we’ll just address and adjust.
“If there is more demand than there are resources, we’re just going to keep making the sure the government of Canada is aware of the gap and maybe there’s other programs we can bring to the table.”
Those in the micro to small business stream are, for the most part, Indigenous tourism companies that have been in operation for at least two years and have less than 100 employees.
“That’s a very large number of our businesses across the country,” Henry said.
Though details on the next $10 million in federal funding has yet to be announced, Henry added ITAC reps know where they would like to see it designated.
“What we want to see the other $10 million focused on is what we’re calling signature experiences,” Henry said.
These would be major development projects that Indigenous tourism operators undertake. For example, a hotel could use some of its investment money for a property expansion.
The 2023 federal budget did not include any additional funding for Indigenous tourism businesses. Government officials reasoned they were working with ITAC reps to get out promised money from 2022.
Henry added ITAC officials are requesting the federal government also provide about $30 million in additional funding in its 2024 budget.
“We’re not naïve,” Henry said. “We know the reality that government coffers are quite tight. But this is a really important consumer opportunity that actually brings more money in.”
For more information visit https://indigenoustourism.ca/programs-services/indigenous-tourism-fund-micro-and-small-business-stream/
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