Welcome to the final installment of the Tourism Trends 2019 series. Previously, we’ve discussed responsible tourism, wellness tourism, and DNA tourism. In this final blog post, I’ll be discussing indigenous tourism, which – although not a new concept – has been growing steadily throughout the years.

According to the University of Northern British Columbia, indigenous tourism is “a tourism activity in which Indigenous people are directly involved either through control and/or by having their culture serve as the essence of the attraction”. It emphasizes authenticity, both by having indigenous individuals guide the experience and by offering more insight into its history and significance. Paula Amos, director of partnerships and corporate initiatives at Indigenous Tourism BC, notes that much of the difference comes from the story that these indigenous groups tell. The guides do more than just point out the sights: they discuss what it means to their culture and why.

Although indigenous tourism isn’t necessarily new, it has gained a lot of traction in the last few years, especially in Canada. In fact, in 2018, indigenous tourism represented a $1.8 billion CAD market in Canada (about $1.35 billion USD). Organizations such as the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) offer support to those wishing to start or improve their business, and Destination British Columbia recently gave 1 million CAD to the Indigenous Tourism Association of British Columbia to help them achieve their goals.

This increased interest is by no means limited to Canada. In the U.S., the Native American Tourism and Visitor Improving Act was passed in 2016 in an attempt to include more indigenous groups in the decision-making process, while the Kings Park and Botanic Garden in Perth, Australia recently pushed to incorporate more Aboriginal-owned businesses. What all these new initiatives have in common is that they strive to include the indigenous groups as an integral part of the process rather than exploit them.

Not all attempts at indigenous tourism should be applauded, however. For instance, U.S. citizen John Allen Chau died last year when he illegally approached North Sentinel Island in an attempt to make contact with the indigenous tribe that resides there. Also, in Finland, the Sami people have called for an end to the “widespread, inaccurate and primitive image of the Sami which comes across in exploitative tourism”.

The main solution to avoiding problems like these is easy: be respectful. Respect the indigenous groups in an area, and include them in all discussions/negotiations if you plan a tour that involves their culture in some way. When possible, leave the guidance to the groups themselves who can share a more authentic, rich story with tourists. And be mindful of stereotypes, as well as an inaccurate understanding of local customs and traditions. Educate your guests on proper etiquette, and do your best to debunk any myths that they may believe.

Indigenous tourism represents a unique cultural exchange, one that leaves visitors with a more complete image of a place and its residents. It allows tourists to glimpse into another person’s way of life and hopefully become more empathetic as a result. And, when done appropriately, it can be an unforgettable experience.


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