Wasaya Wilderness Adventures is planning consultation sessions to discover potential tourism opportunities in its 12 ownership communities.
“We have a lot of things in the works but it is very important for us and our (Wasaya Wilderness) board to get ideas on where the communities want to take tourism,” said Bruce Fallen, Wasaya tourism advisor. “We still want to be able to promote fishing and hunting, but we want to broaden our tourism experiences.”
Fallen said the organization, which started up about a year after the Northern Ontario Native Tourism Association folded in 2009, is looking at expanding its tourism products and experiences into eco adventure, experiential tourism, learning tourism and the promotion of Aboriginal culture.
“These are the kinds of things we want to hear from the communities,” Fallen said. “The other thing we need to do is when we are in the communities we need to hopefully identify people that are interested in entering the tourism industry.”
But Fallen said tourism ideas are only good if someone wants to work to implement them into a business.
“There are going to be all sorts of challenges that come out of these consultations, like where is the funding going to come from,” Fallen said. “Anyone today starting a business has to go to a commercial bank to get a loan or they get loans from family or friends.”
Fallen said one advantage of the tourism industry is that it is not as cyclical as other industries.
“The other nice thing about tourism is that it does employ a lot of young people,” Fallen said. “Rather than doing nothing over the summer, maybe the youth of the communities could become involved in some tourism endeavours, maybe even become owners some day of tourism endeavours.”
Fallen said some of the more successful First Nation tourism operators in the region are family-owned tourist lodges, but there are also some tourism operators that didn’t get enough business to stay open after NONTA folded.
“So I think that was another reason Wasaya wanted to step in to help and try to bring that visitation back,” Fallen said. “It’s a tough business, particularly fly-in operations.”
Fallen has been involved with the northern Ontario tourism business for many years, including stints as executive director with both Ontario Sunset Country and North of Superior Tourism.
“So between the two big tourism associations in this part of the world, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of where the tourism industry has been going over the past seven to eight years,” Fallen said. “There are many reasons why tourism has been declining over the years and as tourism declines over the years, I think the fly-in operators are the ones really feeling the pinch. So we have to work harder to get visitors to those remote fly-in lodges.”
Fallen also plans to deliver a value of tourism workshop during his visit to discuss the economic impact of tourism in other areas, such as B.C., Alberta and some of the U.S. states.
I feel a greater sense of hope and optimism these days for the future when I talk to many of our young First Nation people. There are still many hurdles and...