New Aboriginal Tourism Ontario 2020 strategic plan seeks to promote indigenous tourism in Ontario

ONTARIO—Aboriginal Tourism Ontario ( ATO ) has established and will be releasing its updated 2020 strategic plan which identifies how the ATO can manage the future of Ontario’s indigenous tourism for communities, businesses and partners while bolstering the economy with jobs and revenue.

“The ATO 2020 Strategic Plan is based on making our province an authentic tourism destination that will attract visitors from within Canada and abroad based on a brand of market-ready indigenous tourism products and services,” states a press release from the ATO. “It’s time to make aboriginal tourism a priority in Ontario by launching and supporting an independent organization that is completely dedicated to positively reshaping our province’s future for indigenous tourism.”

The 2020 strategic goals include: developing operational sustainability and brand integrity, building capacity and increasing economic opportunities, marketing and branding authentic products and services and providing support for communities and entrepreneurs.

“Our 2020 vision is built on stakeholders who have overwhelmingly supported a single organization dedicated to building aboriginal tourism in Ontario,” continued the release. “Our collective vision supports an organization that will ‘responsibly develop, market and grow Ontario’s indigenous tourism industry with value and integrity.’ We will ensure our growth adheres to responsible tourism guidelines that promote sustainability, environmental stewardship, innovation and technology.”

“We respectfully engaged our aboriginal partners, communities, businesses and champions to be part of this critical step in mobilizing ATO,” said Great Spirit Circle Trail CEO Kevin Eshkawkogan. “The time is now. We have diligently done our homework with limited resources and now is the time to get the support ATO requires to help improve the economic era we’re in. We need to put our plan into play.”

“We have been supporting this grassroots initiative with limited resources since 2008,” added Mr. Eshkawkogan. “If ATO is going to work, we need to do it right and not part time with limited resources. We are experiencing positive growth in the industry and we can’t provide the support our industry deserves without proper investment. We need federal and provincial leadership to recognize our sector’s contribution to the economy by proving financial and political support to an aboriginal tourism organization that will continue to grow our economy.”

Mr. Eshkawkogan told The Expositor that the investment required now and over the next five years is small, but will yield big returns.

“Investing in ATO provides returns that are estimated in the double digits. With Ontario capturing 30 percent of Canada’s total aboriginal tourism and spending output totaling $1.7 billion this past year, there is an opportunity for our provincial and federal governments to invest into the immediate needs and the long-term execution of the ATO strategy and business plan.”

The plan calls for just over $1 million for the implementation and management of the five key initiatives.

The Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport has supported the GSCT to further grow the ATO by funding some of the engagement initiatives that included studies, interviews, completing surveys, attending sponsored webinars, regional workshops and updating the ATO 2020 strategy, but is still seeking other partners to tackle the 2020 initiatives to build an independent and sustainable entity that will support and increased indigenous tourism in Ontario and Canada.