Kevin Eshkawkogan: Great Spirit Circle Trail:

Kevin Eshkawkogan: Great Spirit Circle Trail:

11Sep

1. What made you want to get involved with tourism?

With a background in economic development – I came back to the region to help grow my economy in my home community – tourism was the area that was growing at the time.

One of the biggest concerns in the community was that employment opportunities were pretty limited and involved a lot of seasonal work.

Personally my parents ended up moving to a community to work at a saw mill – experiencing that first hand made me want to pursue creating local employment opportunities so people can stay in their home community and lead successful lives.

I have a strong desire to improve the local socio-economic situation by employing local people and creating business opportunities. Those are my main motivators for getting involved with tourism.

2. Please share some background info about your business and/or tourism venture(s).

GSCT originally started in 1997 – it was started by people involved with economic development in the community and by some Elders & visionaries. Before GSCT, tours were happening without First Nations involvement. People started observing what was going on, there were non-Aboriginal guides sharing our history, culture, and traditions, but they were getting it wrong. At that time, we discovered a need to tell our own story – so GSCT decided to take control of the industry to share their own story and now we are the go to people for the Aboriginal cultural tourism in the region.

When GSCT started to grow we started branching out to tackle international markets.

3. What is your most popular visitor experience?

Based on customer’s satisfaction, our canoe tours are most popular! In particular our sunset tours and full moon tours are the most dramatic. CTC identified them as signature experiences.

4. How long have you been in operation for?

Since 1997 – the concept started. Got incorporated in 2006. Started to market in 2000. 2002 international marketing started.

5. Approximately how many visitors do you accommodate per year?

Regionally– through the tour company. 4700.

6. What were some of the main challenges you encountered throughout the years and share how you’ve overcome them?

I’ve been involved on a part-time basis since 2002 – there was a need for developing business plans and strategies. There were also challenges overcoming stereotypes about Aboriginal product. We needed to keep momentum going, so we got more people involved with professional expertise and training.

People were not wanting to do business with us because of past stereotypes – so there still is that need to convince our partners to trust and believe in the work that they do…

In addition, bringing 7 – 8 communities to agree on a concept was an ongoing challenge. Now that we are growing there are challenges of being successful and creating sustainability. The current structure in place was recommended by various funding agencies, so there were some challenges with our structure and creating a sustainable model. There is a need to become self-sustainable and not rely on outside sources of funding.

GSCT uses both a not-for-profit and a for-profit model. You need the tourism dollars to carry a not-for-profit which has been a challenge.

7. What does it take to run a successful tourism business?

Perseverance – staying the course – knowing your vision… losing focus causes problems. Being able to work through things and being flexible to adapt to changing environments.

8. Do you have any stories to share about a memorable experience or encounter you had with a visitor/tourist?

Since we are involved with experiential tourism, our guides share a common ‘right of passage’. We take our experiences to another level and connect with people spiritually and not in the religious sense – the sense of sharing our culture and engaging all the senses. Everyone gets something to taste, smell, touch, hear, see – and also to get touched emotionally. A lady from the travel trade participated in one of our experiences and she started crying when she was listening to our stories – she was just moved by our philosophies… experiencing someone crying is a ‘right of passage’ for our guides.

The sunrise tours has a lot of impact on visitors, they experience it and feel it emotionally. People get moved. We take experiential tourism to another level and reach and connect with people emotionally and spiritually.

9. Do you have any advice to share with other communities, tourism businesses, and entrepreneurs out there?

In regards to cultural tourism – best advice is to be true to your culture. Use cultural integrity guidelines developed by the Elders – do not compromise your culture. Make sure things are accurate – don’t make things up.

In tourism in general – remember customer service – allow people to have a good experience from start to finish. Treat people the way you want to be treated.

10. What made you want to start ATO?

We were kicking around the idea of starting a provincial aboriginal tourism organization as a concept for a long time. The regional Aboriginal tourism organizations such as NONTA came and faded out. Between 2005 – 2008 we wanted to start a province wide organization.

I believe that if you carry knowledge in a certain area it is your responsibility to share it and I was encouraged to take the lead on it by various people.

Then we came up with the draft strategy. From the experience being involved with In this process we identified that there was a clear need for more Aboriginal tourism product across the province and in order to do this a support system was needed.

With the additional demand and developing new product, there is a need to help other people develop businesses to grow the industry as well as to share knowledge and expertise.

11. What are some of your accomplishments to date for GSCT?

The big one is growing the regional economic impact for the region – basically from 2004 it grew from less than a million to over $10 million per year. This includes all of the spin offs such as gas, groceries, etc. This is a huge accomplishment and we are seeing growth every year.

We constantly study and assess what the needs are and we know there is a need for more of a variety of products here. We need to develop new products all the time. Mantoulin Hotel for example. We need more accommodations, and more inventory for tourism products and services such as transportation, hotels, and food & beverage services – group tours are growing as a result.

We began to open our own doors and create our own demand and as a result the whole hotel industry grew in region 13A.

In comparison, BC tracks their economic impact and visitor spendage on average $50 million per year so GSCT on its own is not that far off.

12. What would you like to see for the future of ATO?

We want to grow the tourism industry and improve socio-economic conditions for the province.

I hope that it improves the economic impacts and sustainability in our communities. ATO can fill certain roles that can help fill gaps for support like international marketing, and other services like helping businesses become market ready so to speak and getting rid of certain stereotypes. This provides an opportunity for communities and businesses to share their own stories by owning, operating and running tourism businesses.

There were some Indigenous themed businesses but the benefits were not going to the right people such as New Zealand and BC’s indigenous tourism industry – Indigenous people aren’t maximizing the benefits of those opportunities – ATO wants to help maximize benefits to the people on the ground that are running the businesses.

In general, with the development of GSCT, it became a place for people to come and learn within the industry. Now people are planning their studies and careers based on opportunities with GSCT. It is viewed as a place to learn about yourself if you are Anishnaabek person.

Seems to be a good year for ATO with new partnerships and connections with communities – this will open up some new doors and help others see the potential and merit involved with Aboriginal tourism moving forward.

Gov’t and other groups – don’t discount the Aboriginal groups and people getting involved in tourism / travel services – go hand in hand with resource extraction… business opportunities – ATO – main stream- so many aspects – business opportunities and spin offs – Aboriginal partnerships to be formed.

The main goal and vision to grow economy.

13. Would you like your business to be featured on the Ontariotravel.net site and the ATO site?

Yes!

 

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