Clinton Belcher, CEO of Canadian Ecotourism Services (CES) shares his thoughts and perspectives on Sustainable Indigenous Tourism.
1. Tell us your story. How did you become involved with your organization? What does your organization do and why is it important to indigenous tourism?
I created Canadian Ecotourism Services (CES) with the deepest desire to honestly make a difference and change people’s lives and make a positive impact. Our projects are done in a very personal and human way that was extremely meaningful for our clients and helpful for myself.
CES is a tourism and community development consultancy with over 20 years of experience. Throughout the years, CES has evolved to offer much more than ecotourism services… we now have expanded into all aspects of community development services particularly targeting Indigenous communities. Our expertise lies in Indigenous tourism development, coaching & training, cultural preservation projects, innovative product development models, planning & business development, and marketing and branding. We have the expertise to work on both large scale projects such as the Indigenous Tourism Ontario Strategy, as well as small scale projects such as Feasibility Studies for Cultural Villages and Community Workshops.
2. Why do you think sustainable Indigenous tourism is important?
Sustainable Indigenous Tourism brings an opportunity for communities to authentically share their culture with the world while creating economic opportunities, preserving their culture, and protecting the local environment. Indigenous tourism should be developed in a way that respects community’s values, preserves culture, and protects Indigenous people’s way of life.
3. How would you define sustainable Indigenous tourism?
It’s tourism that uses Indigenous ways to promote sustainability. Sustainable Indigenous Tourism ensures a balance between investment and development opportunities, the land and the environment, and the community’s socio-economic growth, resulting in a positive triple bottom line: culture, environment, and financial sustainability.
4. Can you provide examples of current innovative initiatives in sustainable indigenous tourism?
One of the projects we are currently involved with combines innovative technology and cultural tourism referred to as the AIM (Authentic Indigenous Moments) project, it’s revolutionary. It is the first ever Indigenous tourism platform that connects visitors directly with their hosts through an interactive web-based app. We’re always trying to up the game. This project is currently being implemented at the community and provincial level!
5. What is your current role/project/research focus?
As the owner of CES, I’ve worked directly with Indigenous entrepreneurs, businesses, organizations, and regional and provincial associations in providing guidance and setting direction for creating innovative models, plans, products and marketing programs that support grassroots community-based tourism. I spent a massive amount of energy creating community based and grassroots solutions and coming up with ways of making it work – instead of using off the shelf solutions.
A lot of thought and time was put into using solutions that would benefit communities and be useful at the community level…which ultimately as a business owner, made it not profitable. For me it was passion over profit, to do the right thing first, then the profit would come.
6. What is one piece of advice you would give to someone about sustainable indigenous tourism development?
The heart of sustainable indigenous tourism is the people. Tourists want to experience diverse cultures; to eat, live in, and explore a new place for a short time, and not necessarily participate in any specific ‘tourist’ activity. The importance of the need to support the community first before commercializing the culture needs to remain the priority. Indigenous tourism needs to be developed organically at the grassroots community-based level.
7. What would you like to see in the future for the case of Canadian Indigenous tourism?
I would like to see more programs that support and encourage Indigenous entrepreneurs to become involved in their local tourism industries. Many communities are home to individuals with unique knowledge, skills, access and the passion to create engaging cultural and nature-based ecotourism experiences to share with visitors. These community members can be storytellers, guides, fishermen, trappers, hunters, artists, singers, dancers, wood carvers, artisans, cooks, and more. However these individuals are unaware of the opportunities that exist and don’t have the knowledge on how to start a business and/or to market themselves. Therefore, it is recommended to use an approach that empowers the community’s guides and entrepreneurs and provide support under one platform. This is where projects like our Authentic Indigenous Moments (AIM)™model that empower cultural entrepreneurs revolutionize the entire industry! I’m excited for what’s to come.