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The Indigenous Tourism Conference at TCU Place in Saskatoon, SK on Wednesday, October 31, 2018. People travelling to Saskatchewan are interested in learning about Indigenous culture through tourism, a conference in Saskatoon was told this week.

Keith Henry, the CEO and President of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, says focusing on Indigenous tourism within the wider tourism market is a smart move, with one in three visitors to Canada wanting to experience Indigenous cultures as part of their trip.

“International visitors are thirsting for transformative changes,” he said. “They want to learn, they want to be changed as people and we are seeing real high-spending visitors that isn’t looking for something super high end — they want to go on the land, understand the story … and they want to learn why Indigenous people have survived for thousands of years here.”

Indigenous tourism opportunities are expanding rapidly throughout Canada and Indigenous business owners came from around the province to attend the seventh annual International Indigenous Tourism Conference.

The two-day conference, bringing in Indigenous delegates from across Canada and around the world, aims to help Indigenous business people create strategies to promote their businesses to tourists as well as connecting them with partners like Tourism Saskatoon and Tourism Saskatchewan.

Henry says it’s about promoting tourism opportunities created by Indigenous peoples, which includes participating in cultural sharing opportunities such as visiting a cultural centre or taking in an Indigenous festival. Though it encompasses a lot more than the traditional idea of cultural sharing and can be as simple as eating at an Indigenous owned restaurant or shopping in an Indigenous owned store.

He adds that you don’t have to be a tourist to enjoy these activities — you simply need to know where to look and it’s easy to take advantage of the opportunities in your own backyard.

“For example, there’s Back to Batoche Days, but how many non-Indigenous people go to that event?” Henry said. “We want people to feel welcome at these events it’s part of learning, education and supports reconciliation.”

Henry has seen firsthand the boom in the Indigenous tourism, which saw a 26 per cent growth last year — dwarfing the five per cent growth of traditional tourism across Canada.

With so much potential in the province, the next step is creating more iconic experiences to draw people into Saskatchewan, Henry said.

“We have Wanuskewin and we have some adventures being created, but we need more iconic products to help people understand why they should come to Saskatchewan to enjoy Indigenous tourism,” he explained.

“We know the cultural assets are there, we just have to help shape it and help put a business apparatus around it.” Keith Henry, the CEO and President of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, stands for a photograph at the Indigenous Tourism Conference at TCU Place in Saskatoon, SK on Wednesday, October 31, 2018. Play Video

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