Empowering Indigenous Communities though Story-Telling and Tourism

Posted on April 15, 2014

Posted in: Categories Uncategorised

This week, Whistler is hosting the 2014 International Aboriginal Tourism Conference with delegates attending from around the globe. The timing of this event for First Nations peoples is significant as we see increasing momentum building amongst Aboriginal communities interested in building capacity and improving their quality of life, many using tourism as a vehicle to achieve these goals.  This conference provides the opportunity for attendees to share their stories, learn best practices, and create collaborative partnerships.

Indigenous Tourism provides a relatively untapped opportunity for Aboriginal communities.  There are a number of examples of successful Aboriginal tourism development, however; these are limited to a handful of sites and events. Some examples include: The Haida Heritage Centre ; Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre ; Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre ; Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump ; Blackfoot Crossing ; and Wanuskewin Heritage Park .  If you have visited any of these sites, one thing you will notice is that Aboriginal culture, history and practices are shared through story-telling, arts and crafts, and performances.  The stories of each community and region have been developed through many hundreds and thousands of years of adaptation and interaction with the environment and the landscape.  This is obvious if you compare exhibits, performances and stories from the Haida Heritage Centre with the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, and Blackfoot Crossing. While the themes of environment and landscape may show some commonalities, each community presents stories of adaptation unique to their own geography and history.

While these may be considered significant attractions, there are many more stories to be told across First Nations communities and territories…keeping in mind that many of these communities are located in rural areas.  In Southern Alberta, we have been working with some of our consulting partners (School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Royal Roads University ; David Nairne + Associates ; and Russell Farmer and Associates) in the development of a Tourism Strategic Plan with the Treaty 7 First Nations region.  Following community engagement sessions, we have come up with a number of recommendations based on stakeholder priorities and designed to build capacity and effectively share the stories of Treaty 7.  Like many First Nations communities, Treaty 7 stakeholders have a strong desire for tourism to become a central part of the Treaty 7 Nations efforts to foster socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable development.

Contemporary best practices for strategic tourism planning and destination development should encompass the following: destination planning, destination marketing planning, research, product development, partnerships and team-building, community and tourism stakeholder relations, governance and leadership, branding, integrated marketing communications, information and communication technologies, destination markets (consumer behaviour, segmentation and market trends), and an understanding of emerging destination management and marketing trends, issues, challenges, and opportunities (thanks to Dr. Alistair M. Morrison, 2013).

In concert with the needs, interests and opportunities for Treaty 7 communities, our team is focusing on a number of these best practices to support tourism development priorities identified by Treaty 7 stakeholders.  Key priorities include: language and cultural conservation, community capacity-building, establishing Treaty 7 as leaders in the Alberta Tourism market, and developing world-class experiences. Recommendations are intended to be put to practical use through the inclusion of a Tourism Product Development Opportunity Evaluation Tool.  This tool, produced by our team, is designed to assist in evaluating the feasibility of developing specific tourism products or experiences with consideration of key Critical Success Factors (CSFs) necessary to ensure viability and sustainability of an initiative.  CSFs  utilized are derived from our community tourism development experience, graduate and post-graduate research, and consideration of broader tourism community development CSFs (APEC; Richie and Crouch; Rockart and Bullen; and Wilson, Fesenmaier, Fesenmaier, & van Es).

The Explore Quotient (EQ) types developed by the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) are a useful way of profiling potential visitors and developing relevant targeted experiences and stories.  The value of EQ is in developing experiences and marketing that appeal to the markets most likely to visit Treaty 7 Nations.  Travel Alberta has identified Free Spirits and Cultural Explorers as the EQ types most likely to visit Alberta.  Recent research on Urban Albertans suggests that Cultural Explorers and Authentic Experiencers are the EQ types most likely to visit rural Alberta.  Furthermore, the potential tourism products identified by Treaty 7 Nations are more likely to appeal to Cultural Explorers and Authentic Experiencers.  Therefore these two EQ segments should be the primary target for Treaty 7 product and market development.

Key recommendations which align with identified priorities for Treaty 7 communities include: creation of a regional branding strategy (story-telling theme/framework), establishment of a Treaty 7 destination management organization, enhancement of training/education opportunities (including fostering an Elder-Youth mentoring program), support for entrepreneurship development and opportunities (including partnerships), develop and leverage investment and marketing partnerships across the tourism network, develop a digital communications strategy, leverage existing iconic attractions, and ensure authenticity across all initiatives (note, this list is not comprehensive!). The utilization of a story-telling framework and the delivery of Treaty 7 stories though social technology vehicles is based upon research I discussed in a previous blog posting on these topics: Technology, Stories, and Co-Developed Experiences.

Treaty 7 communities are seeking to develop tourism attractions in addition to Aboriginal Cultural Experiences.  The greatest opportunity for development lies with those activities that will appeal to people who are also interested in Aboriginal Cultural Experiences.  Treaty 7 Nations have a competitive advantage in delivering Aboriginal Cultural Experiences that supports the overall strategic theme.  A number of complimentary activities have been identified that can provide the experiences that potential visitors are seeking.  Visitors who seek Aboriginal Cultural Experiences will also seek cultural experiences such as Literary and Film Festivals, Participatory Historical Activities, Equestrian & Western Events, and Agritourism (Agricultural Tourism).  Complimentary activities can be developed by Treaty 7 Nations or used to identify potential partners for cross promotion and packaging.

Tourism Planning Themes

Treaty 7 Community Tourism Development Themes

There are very significant market opportunities for Treaty 7 with respect to tourism development opportunities.  Aboriginal culture is a key attraction and travel motivation for large segments of the tourism market.  Utilizing the Explorer Quotients and developing products and services that will appeal to these market profiles could provide Treaty 7 with the opportunity to present a strong market advantage and to become a significant stakeholder in the tourism market within Alberta.  The key market segments include local and out of province visitors who are interested in learning about culture and history, and experiencing authentic culture and recreation.  An over-arching strategic story-telling theme identified as part of the Treaty 7 tourism strategy will appeal to these key market segments.


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