Indigenous Tourism Ontario scores line-item Ontario Tourism funding status

HUNTSVILLE—Indigenous Tourism Ontario (ITO) and Destination Ontario have further solidified their collaborative relationship through a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that was signed October 25 at the Ontario Tourism Summit 2022.

While both organizations already have a strong working partnership, the MOU outlines specific areas for communication, marketing and mentorship collaboration, with a goal to strengthen the Indigenous tourism industry across Ontario.

“Indigenous tourism is no longer an emerging market,” stated Kevin Eshkawkogan, chief executive officer, ITO. “As the only recognized voice for the Ontario Indigenous tourism industry, ITO is extremely pleased to further solidify and grow our relationship with Destination Ontario. Our two organizations and networks are best suited to collaborate and bring this industry to the world.”

Neil Lumsden, minister of tourism, culture and sport said, “this agreement strengthens collaboration with our partners in Ontario’s Indigenous tourism industry. It’s an important milestone that supports the growth of Indigenous tourism and showcases the deep-rooted, diverse culture of Indigenous peoples throughout the province.”

“Destination Ontario welcomes the opportunity to further build our partnership with ITO by identifying and working together on marketing activities that will promote Ontario’s array of Indigenous tourism offerings,” said Lisa LaVecchia, president and CEO, Destination Ontario. “We recognize that Indigenous tourism experiences are sought by travellers both domestically and internationally and are an enriching part of a visitor’s experience in Ontario.”

Mr. Eshkawkogan explained, “we already had a strong relationship with Destination Ontario, which is a little less defined than it is now. And they are now going to be making an investment in ITO by having ITO as part of its budget.”

“Indigenous tourism brings in over $650 million to the Ontario economy,” said Mr. Eshkawkogan who pointed out, “Indigenous tourism has always been classified as an emerging market. But due to consumers demand for the Indigenous experience from international and domestic travellers, it is no longer emerging. It is here and this MOU reflects this.” 

He went on to note that Indigenous tourism businesses have recovered quicker than mainstream tourism businesses in some cases, because of this demand for Indigenous-based tourism experiences.

With the MOU, “Destination Ontario will have dedicated resources provided in their budgets for Indigenous tourism that we will be able to have control over and deliver as we see fit. And they are the experts in the province in tourism and we will be able to lean on them,” continued Mr. Eshkawkogan. “We don’t need to be at the forefront administration wise, but we need to be at the table.”

“Destination Ontario has massive promotional campaigns historically and they will continue to ad hoc for Ontario Indigenous tourism, when they are marketing,” said Mr. Eshkawkogan. 

Mr. Eshkawkogan pointed out when there is such a demand for Indigenous tourism experiences and they are made available, it is not only Indigenous tourism businesses that benefit, but all those in the community, like Manitoulin Island. “Our Great Spirit Circle Trail was likely a little ahead of its time. Imagine if it had been an Island-wide entity and tons of people want to come to Manitoulin Island. ITO is not a one-stop shop for offering tourism experiences. We approach, have to collaborate and provide good quality tourism experiences in the entire area like Manitoulin Island. It is benefitting the tourism business as a whole. It is a two-way street. We are leading the world in this, doing all of this from Manitoulin Island.”

The MOU came into effect upon signing and will be in place until March 31, 2024, at which time the MOU will be reviewed for new goals and objectives.

ITO is the province’s first and only dedicated Indigenous tourism organization that focuses on uniting communities, Indigenous organizations and industry leaders to support the growth of Indigenous tourism in Ontario. Through product development and marketing of authentic Indigenous experiences, ITO establishes a platform for Indigenous cultural expression and preservation through tourism. 

Destination Ontario is an agency of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport with a mission to generate increased visitation by Ontario, Canadian and international tourists, enhance tourism expenditures in Ontario and contribute to provincial economic prosperity through impactful marketing and results oriented investment partnerships.