A new partnership to increase and enhance Inuit participation in the tourism industry came together this week in Iqaluit during The Spirit of the Arctic: Tourism Summit 2019 held April 15 to 18.
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) is between Travel Nunavut, the Government of Nunavut and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.
Travel Nunavut’s chief executive officer Kevin Kelly says the main intent is to bring in more Inuit tourism operators to flesh out the industry.
“We have a tremendous amount of depth in terms of Inuit operators in certain communities but, in other communities, we completely lack a licenced operator. Even in the communities that we do have a few, we’d like to see more so that more products and services can be offered,” he said.
As Kelly explains, Indigenous tourism is where the industry is headed, and offering a full slate of experiences and activities for Nunavut-bound travellers is important.
“It’s fine to go on a dog-sled ride, but what happens with the other days?” he asked.
That matters, because numbers from a survey conducted by Travel Nunavut last year indicates, on the low end, an existing tourism industry worth $300 million annually. At the medium end, it’s closer to $350-400 million.
The GN, with Statistics Canada, is coming up with a similar number of $400 million.
“What that doesn’t take into consideration is the underground arts economy. So that’s a huge portion of the economy right there that is part of the travel industry. People come, they buy Inuit art,” said Kelly.
A 2017 Big River Analytics report prepared for the federal government in 2017 states that in 2015 the Inuit arts economy contributed $87.2 million to Canadian gross domestic product, with Nunavut Inuit contributing roughly half, or $37,301,423.
To compare, the Government of Nunavut contributes $2.2 billion to the territory’s economy, while mining is expected to contribute $1.4 billion this year.
The Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada has the means to invest in Inuit operators, said Kelly. The opportunity comes in the wake of Travel Nunavut and its sister organizations in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon together developing a suite of industry-related standards, workbook, workshops, and workshop materials.
“This is very exciting, yes,” said Kelly, who recalls the rebirth of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada.
“It’s great to see it evolve from where it was then to where it is now, where they have millions of dollars in funding, and it’s great to see the work that they’re doing.”
Funding, training, employment opportunities for Nunavummiut
Kelly says tourism is only going to grow.
“At what rate? We’re just starting to get some numbers in as far as the gross economic impact, so we’re going to be hesitant on giving a number on expected growth until we have something solid,” he said.
“Operators have been reluctant up until now to give up those numbers. We finally convinced them to do that, which is great. This goes a long way to promoting more tourism in the territory, to assisting operators in getting funding.”
For example, funding for purchasing boats, said Kelly.
“Because why would a funding agency give you $100,000 if you can’t articulate how much sales has been generated in the territory. These are key numbers that we need,” he said.
Board chairperson of the Travel Nunavut Industry Association Patrick Akpalialuk is equally excited about the partnership.
“Today is an excellent day for tourism in Nunavut,” he stated in a news release.
“The signing of the memorandum of understanding will significantly help the implementation of business, market, and trade-ready set of standards.”
For his part, EDT Minister David Akeeagok stated, “the GN will provide training that prepares Nunavummiut for meaningful employment and this MOU sets the groundwork towards achieving this goal.”
The Spirit of the Arctic: Tourism Summit 2019, organized by EDT’s director of tourism and cultural industry Nancy Guyon, gathered tourism operators and outfitters, community leaders, national and regional Inuit organizations, territorial and federal government department representatives as well as national and indigenous tourism organizations.
Also at the summit, the GN and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) signed a memorandum of understanding.
“The GN is committed to diversifying and improving economic opportunities to encourage self-reliance and provide local employment in the cruise ship industry. This MOU ensures a closer working relationship with the organization that represents the majority of cruise operators in the Canadian Arctic,” stated Akeeagok.
Finally, Travel Nunavut took on the task of shepherding a media junket of seven reporters, including one from China and one from New York City. The reporters received four days packed with the full gamut of what’s on offer in Iqaluit, including Toonik Tyme, and in Pangnirtung.