New agreement aims to grow NWT’s Indigenous tourism sector

The Northwest Territories is setting up a new agreement designed to create more Indigenous tourism operators and boost their sales.

On Tuesday, the territorial government, NWT Tourism, and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) signed a memorandum of understanding.

The document, worth up to around $250,000 in funding for this fiscal year, will help support existing operators and turn them into role models for new entrepreneurs.


“We know the North is of interest to a lot of international tourists, as we already see, but we don’t see a lot of that yet in Indigenous businesses with the exception of Aurora Village, Tundra North Tours, and a few other experiences,” said Keith Henry, president of ITAC, which has similar deals in place with other Canadian jurisdictions.

“We think there is a lot more demand, so we’re trying to bring more awareness about where visitors can purchase authentic, Indigenous experiences.”

ITAC published its 2018-19 guide to Canadian Indigenous tourism on the same day, which features eight pages showcasing the NWT’s Indigenous operators.

Only British Columbia and Quebec command more space in the 108-page brochure.

“It’s an opportunity to expand the programming we have and tap into some champions already in the industry, and work with them to help us get more new entrants into the sector,” said Tracy St Denis, representing the NWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment.


More capacity

In its first year, the memorandum will free up funding to:

  • develop tourism day packages for Łutselkʼe;
  • train Yellowknives Dene First Nation staff and develop related promotional materials;
  • provide workshops across the NWT; and
  • hold photo and video shoots to market Indigenous tourism opportunities.

Cathie Bolstad, NWT Tourism’s chief executive, said the photo and video content will allow the territory to “more strategically” market cultural tourism activities, through both its own channels and ITAC’s network.

“About 75 percent, from my perspective, is about building capacity,” Henry told Cabin Radio. “Community sessions, education and awareness, business development. The NWT needs to continue to enhance its variety of Indigenous offerings.

The territory will evaluate the memorandum’s success using a pre-existing checklist as part of its broader Tourism 2020 strategy. Henry says he’ll judge the deal’s success on how many new businesses appear, how sales change, and how many jobs are created.


“What we see over the next three to five years is greatly increasing the value of Indigenous tourism from those three angles,” he said.