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Welcome Center hits tourism trade show

Kahnawake tourism agent Kimberly Cross said a recent trip to Halifax for the national Indigenous trade show opened her eyes to some amazing potential for growing the industry in the community. (Courtesy Kimberly Cross)

In its fifth year of operation, the Kahnawake Welcome Center can now count itself among the top Indigenous tourism sellers in the country.

The Welcome Center’s tourism development agent Kimberly Cross attended the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) Rendez-vous Canada trade show in Halifax May 13 to 16, selling Kahnawake as a tourist destination. 

“It was a good experience for us,” said Cross. “I believe that we’ll see a lot of contracts coming from there.” 

ITAC invited Kahnawake to attend the show that hosted its biggest ever slate of vendors from 41 Indigenous tourism businesses set up to hold appointments with tour operators from across the globe. 

It was the perfect event to see what the current and coming trends are in the industry.

“For us, the newest trend right now is the Chinese market,” said Cross. “Because Canada and China have a big agreement, we’re probably going to have a lot more Chinese visitors coming. I learned that we really need to be ready to receive them because right now we’re not.”

The Welcome Center plans to get materials translated into Cantonese and/or Mandarin so visitors can understand their experience better.

“They’re coming, they’re spending their money to get here, and we don’t want them to not understand once they get here,” said Cross, who said those Chinese visitors that have visited purchase large volumes of souvenirs from the Catholic Church’s gift shop.

“There’s a huge demand for Indigenous tourism for people coming from China,” said Cross. 

ITAC sees Indigenous tourism as a growth industry, as proven by the large numbers at this year’s show. 

“They’re hoping that it doubles next year because there is so much Indigenous tourism products, just not everybody is at that level to promote it to the market yet,” said Cross.

Cross said the association pushed to have Kahnawake attend this year, which was very helpful.

“They’ve helped a lot,” she said. “They helped mentor me to go there (to Halifax). They helped me with setting up appointments and setting up the specific tour operators that would fit to our product… It was really good that they gave us that extra push to come.”

ITAC’s mission is “to improve the socio-economic situation of Indigenous people within the 10 provinces and three territories of Canada” by supplying advisory services, conferences such as the one in Halifax, professional development training and workshops and statistical expertise, according to the organization’s website.

Between 2016 and 2021, ITAC’s goal is to increase Indigenous tourism income by $300 million, employ 40,233 tourism workers, and support 50 new Indigenous tourism operators at export-ready status.

The key is finding tourists that are in the area and interested in Kahnawake-specific products. Someone looking for adventure tours or wildlife, Cross explained, would not be ideal tourist clients for Kahnawake.

“They were able to tell me, ‘don’t make an appointment with this person because that’s what they’re looking for,’ so not to waste my time,” said Cross. 

Those in the Montreal area, or interested in religious, history or cultural tours, however, should know what Kahnawake has to offer. 

Since 2013, the Welcome Center has tracked visitors, which is now at around 1,700 per year. Just under half of those come from within Canada (81 percent from Quebec), 18 percent from Europe, 10 percent from the US, and a small portion from other international locales.

Welcome Center staff continues to promote events such as food and culture festivals, and made sure to mention the Echoes of a Proud Nation Pow Wow at the trade show. 

“The powwow definitely is the hugest draw, they had over 10,000 people last year,” said Cross.

The next big event in Kahnawake is May 31 when A Tribe Called Red performs at the Kahnawake Sports Complex. 

Vendors take note. 

What would help draw tourists?

“Getting our businesses more involved and showcasing more authentic products; more Indigenous-related products,” said Cross.

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Daniel J. Rowe is an award-winning reporter and photographer originally from BC. In addition to journalism, he produces and edits a Shakespeare-inspired blog and podcast called the Bard Brawl. His writing has also appeared in the Montreal Gazette, Canadian Press, U.S. Lacrosse magazine and elsewhere. His facial hair rotates with the season, and he’s recently discovered the genius of wearing a cowboy hat. He wrote for The Eastern Door from 2011 to 2019.