Mississaugas of the Credit, Anishnabeg, Chippewa, Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Traditional Territory (Toronto, Ontario) – April 2021 – Now into COVID-19’s third wave, people’s eyes have been open to the big issues of our time, mindsets have been transposed, there are yearnings for greater meaning and behaviours have been redefined. 80% of Canadians plan to travel when restrictions are lifted. Primary interest are trips to rural areas (an overwhelming 90% of searches). Participating in an Indigenous experience is of paramount appeal. A recent study conducted by Insignia Marketing Research for the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC), revealed that COVID-19 may have been the catalyst of change responsible for Canadians’ current elevated interest and enthusiasm for Indigenous domestic travel experiences, especially experiences rooted in nature.
Indigenous People in Canada have long considered a deep connection with the natural world as fundamental – essential to both a balanced, healthy society and sense of self. Spending time in the outdoors and understanding humanity’s place in the world: these experiences are at the core of traditional Indigenous culture and storytelling. They might also be the perfect antidote for anxious, travel-hungry Canadians seeking clarity, meaning and wellbeing in these uncertain times.
“The pandemic stops you in your tracks,” said Candace Campo, owner-operator of Talaysay Tours, a Vancouver-based tour company that offers Aboriginal cultural and eco-tourism experiences in and around Vancouver, Squamish and the Sunshine Coast. COVID forced reflection and reprioritization, said Campo. “I was in a constant cycle of run, run, run, work, work, work.” It was the same for her clientele, but that has changed, she said. Now, they are truly present, even when they are being led through a forest via a Zoom tour! “People are really expressing their appreciation,” she said. “They say ‘this is what I need’. […] I think we all woke up and we all know that nature is where it’s at.”
“I’m now more present and introspective, and I am ready to learn about a better or different way,” said one participant in the Insignia study.
Insignia’s report, commissioned as part of a strategic recovery plan for Indigenous businesses within the hard-hit domestic travel market, was conducted in August 2020 with participants across six provinces. Study findings suggest that where individuals had once been passively curious about Indigenous tourism and culture in Canada the pandemic has ignited that curiosity, resulting in a more open, receptive attitude to exploring the Indigenous world in their own backyard.
Circling back with several Indigenous business owners a year into the pandemic reveals that while people had visited nature before and appreciated it as observers, they are now feeling rather than simply seeing, and newly appreciating the power of nature to offer relief, healing and even a sense of safety. For many, there is a better understanding of nature when explored from an Indigenous perspective. During the pandemic nature has become the constant.
Heather Paul, executive director of the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler, BC, said people are hungry to learn from nature and the Indigenous storytelling tradition. “They may have realized that they have been missing out. […] They realize that they can be the generation to make a change, but they have to do it in a way where they emotionally connect. For [the generation, aged 20-35], they are looking for guidance and spiritual connection. More and more went outside and found it and are more in-line with Indigenous stewardship of the land.”
From camping or canoe adventures led by Indigenous guides to culinary-focused experiences, and activities rooted in the rich history of Indigenous arts and crafts, travellers are preferring to explore from an Indigenous point of view over non-indigenous.
When describing why she felt that travellers connect to Indigenous experiences, Paul explained that “we are the original storytellers and they feel they will get a deeper and more meaningful understanding.”
These activities can be exceptional when experienced from an authentic Indigenous perspective, said Keith Henry, president and CEO of ITAC. “Although COVID-19 has been devastating to our Indigenous tourism operators, as it has been for most tourism operators across Canada, it is heartening to know that the demand among local travellers has grown for Indigenous tourism experiences. In the past, Indigenous tourism has been a huge draw for international visitors but domestically we have been overlooked. COVID-19 has caused a shift in people’s attitudes toward travel; what they are looking for in a destination or experience is more aligned with the authentic, down-to-earth, mindful experiences that our members offer across the country.”
“It’s like many finally understand what Indigenous People have been teaching all along,” said Lydia Zorn, destinations specialist and president of Insignia, of the report’s key finding. “We finally get that nature is our community and we need to belong. This creates a huge opportunity for Canadians to experience the richness of our Indigenous culture, activities and perspectives – and also an unprecedented, industry-wide growth opportunity for Indigenous tourism businesses.”
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Insignia Marketing Research, known for its breakthrough strategic planning supported by best practices market research, has been a global leader in the tourism industry for over 25 years. Its senior consultants specialize in building destination brands, products and strategic plans and roadmaps to success. Destination Trip Triggers™ analysis is an instrumental component unique to Insignia used for gathering insights and growing client businesses. Trip Triggers™ explains what truly drives destination choices.
Insignia tourism clients: Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC), Destination Canada, Destination British Columbia, ROM, Destination Greater Victoria, Tourism Vancouver, Tourism Toronto, Tourism Yukon, and Nova Scotia Wine Growers.
International travel and tourism clients include Tourism Ireland, Sri Lanka Tourism, Tourism Australia, Tourism Beijing, Tourism Palau, Tourism Dubai.
Insignia non-tourism clients: Harper Collins, Harlequin, Campbells, Hallmark, Bacardi, Hershey, Amazon.
The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) is a national non-profit Indigenous tourism industry organization established in 2015. ITAC is the lead organization tasked with growing and promoting the Indigenous tourism industry across the country. Inspired by a vision for a thriving Indigenous tourism economy sharing authentic, memorable and enriching experiences, ITAC develops relationships with groups and regions with similar mandates to enable collective support, product development, promotion and marketing of authentic Indigenous tourism businesses in a respectful protocol.
ITAC Media Contacts:
English Media Requests: Nicole Amiel, Director of Eastern Canada I Beattie Tartan | 416.436.5185 | firstname.lastname@example.org
French Media Requests: Sébastien Desnoyers-Picard, Chief Marketing Officer I Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada I 418-655-0210 I Sebastien@IndigenousTourism.ca