Robert Bernard says an Indigenous tourism business could be at risk without proper supports.
He’s the Atlantic region coordinator with the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, and a business owner in his own right. He believes Indigenous businesses could use their own chamber of commerce to act as a lobbying tool.
“We’re still building that voice,” said Bernard.
He’s been in business for the last 20 years and has been hands-on with the resurgence of the Indigenous tourism market in Atlantic Canada. Indigenous tourism empowers Indigenous people to showcase aspects of their culture to other people for a price.
Bernard said it's still a growing industry, but studies already show its impact on the economy. A 2017 Conference Board of Canada study showed Indigenous tourism contributed $31 million to the Nova Scotia GDP and over $100 million the Atlantic Canadian GDP. Bernard said the market was increasingly growing and his organization's recent numbers said the industry met their five-year goal in three years. But now the global pandemic may put a halt to that growth.
“It's going to cut more than half that or even just 25 per cent of that capacity,” said Bernard.
Like many tourism industries, they’re seasonal and many of the Indigenous tourism businesses are reliant on the spring and summer months to generate income. Bernard said his organization, along with the Nova Scotia Indigenous Tourism Enterprise Network, are trying to funnel funding information about the federal government's small business stimulus package to their registered businesses. Bernard said nationally ITAC represents 300 and NSITEN represents 40 but a chamber of commerce might go a long way in securing more funding.
“We need lobbyists to see how much will come to the Indigenous tourism industry,” said Bernard.
He thinks businesses funded by their band councils may survive the bleak tourism season, but independent entrepreneurs may not. Bernard said he understands many bandleaders are focused on public health and safety and agrees that’s where it should be, but in the future, he hopes they can start supporting more independent businesses in their communities.
“When they’re shut down, they don’t have any other revenue so they’re losing so much more,” said Bernard.
Darrell Bernard is one of four partners that own the Kluskap Ridge RV & Campground in Englishtown and says the COVID-19 pandemic brings a lot of uncertainty.
“We’re still in isolation. We’re still in lockdown, there's still this state of emergency in Nova Scotia. It really depends on what's next,” said Darrell Bernard.
“We’re hoping by May that by some miracle happenstance people are allowed to travel again.”
Bernard is the vice chair of NSITEN and the Nova Scotia board of directors' rep at ITAC. He and his partners purchased the campgrounds four years ago. And offered tourists the chance to learn about Mi’kmaq history and social dances and songs. Bernard said they rely on the tourism season for their business.
They’ve had tourists visit from Germany and Switzerland and had to cancel a cultural tour from a high school in Texas scheduled for June. Bernard said interprovincial tourists we’re just as important and generally expects people travelling from Quebec and Ontario to come visit. Now the business is taking cost-cutting measures and the RV camp has already pulled advertising for the upcoming tourism season.
“The whole tourism industry this coming season, we’re all going to be taking it on the chin," said Darrell Bernard.
Oscar Baker III is a local journalism initiative reporter, a position being funded by the federal government. He lives in Sydney.