The Survival of an Indigenous Tourism Industry in Pandemic Times
One of the industries most affected by the COVID-19 crisis is undoubtedly tourism. In this article, one of our partner organizations, Québec Aboriginal Tourism, provides an overview of the Indigenous tourism situation and what has been done and implemented to help tourism enterprises.
A major public health crisis such as the one caused by COVID-19 since last March is generating major impacts for all economic sectors. For the tourism industry, the impact was almost instantaneous following the temporary closure of borders, the temporary closure of non-essential businesses and various containment measures. The tourism sector has therefore been severely affected. In fact, several studies carried out in recent months have shown that tourism businesses have experienced a considerable drop in their income, difficulties in recruiting labour and a drop in their business.
Some Indigenous tourism businesses decided to reopen their doors and share their service offer following the gradual deconfinement announced by the Government of Quebec. However, many challenges awaited them! Thus, indigenous SMEs had to place a health intervention plan at the heart of their business model. They needed to adjust the customer experience accordingly to include, among other things, the new variable of social distancing and the mandatory wearing of face masks. They are henceforth responsible for reassuring visitors on the one hand and for winning them back on the other. It is clear that reopened companies have innovated by transforming their challenges into opportunities!
As for Québec Aboriginal Tourism, we have been able to support members by offering accompaniment that is adapted to Indigenous business realities and by proposing a detailed and personalized recovery plan. The entire tourism industry has mobilized and quickly demonstrated the strength to unite in times of crisis. In Quebec, a little over 50% of the Indigenous tourism businesses that are members of our organization have contributed to this recovery and have been or are currently in operation.
As for Indigenous tourism businesses in Quebec, the proportion of international customers represented approximately 50% of the traffic recorded prior to the COVID-19 health crisis. The closure of several borders reduced this proportion to 0% for the summer 2020 season. This drastic drop will have forced Indigenous tourism businesses to target a new market share: visitors from Quebec and neighbouring areas. This new clientele, which has never been targeted until now as part of our marketing efforts, was won over and accepted the invitations from our businesses! This new direction, which was forced by the pandemic but so beneficial in the end, will of course have made it possible to support our local economy, but above all to bring people closer together. The era of reconciliation has taken on its full meaning; neighbourliness and the desire to get to know others have been at the heart of the tourism recovery among Indigenous businesses. Whether they are camping in a traditional dwelling, visiting a museum, whale-watching or taking an online crafts class, Quebecers have responded this summer to the delight of our industry! Thanks to them, Indigenous tourism in the region has been able to count on considerable local traffic. From Abitibi-Témiscamingue to the Côte-Nord, Quebec visitors have set out to explore our industry and the various social media platforms were flooded with images of Indigenous offerings.
Now that the summer season is drawing to a close and the course of the pandemic remains uncertain, several questions remain. Will certain borders be opening up soon? Will we be able to welcome international visitors in 2020 and 2021? Will communities and private businesses continue to prioritize tourism as a tool for socioeconomic development? These questions remain unanswered for the time being but one thing is certain, the Québec Aboriginal Tourism team will be continuing its increased support efforts in order to maintain an Indigenous tourism offer. We believe that promoters need more advice and support than ever before in their business decisions and in implementing adequate health measures. Together, we will need to be innovative and creative to spur recovery in the months and years to come.
For all the details on the available support programs for tourism businesses, please visit the Indigenous Tourism Québec website.