KELOWNA - A new and unique position at the the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association aims to create a boom in a growing tourism market.
Greg Hopf has been hired as the Aboriginal Tourism Specialist to focus specifically on First Nations groups and expanding their roll in the regional tourism market. It's a brand new position at the association and unique in the province. The job is a partnership with the Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C.
“We’ve got ceremonies, celebrations, there’s already people in our communities doing this,” he says. “The Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association wants to make it a priority that aboriginal cultural tourism is at the forefront.”
The objective is to bring together the region's First Nations communities, tourism industry stakeholders and tourists. The culture is already here, he says, but he wants to bring it out of people’s living rooms and into an environment tourists can experience.
The aim is for a win-win-win situation, he says. While the tourists will get a new adventure and the region's hotels and resorts will have a new experience to market, the biggest impact could be on aboriginal groups. Hopf says the goal is not only to grow economic benefits for the groups, but help the region's culture become more accessible and known.
Hopf says the region’s aboriginal culture has plenty to offer tourists and is a huge untapped resource, but is often drowned out by the province’s coastal nations.
“Stereotypically, when you’re in Canada, when you think of a First Nations person in B.C. it’s the Coast Salish art that comes to mind,” he says. “That’s not the people here, they speak a different language, they have different stories.”
In the region’s stories, history, art and more he sees great potential for tourists and plans to bring the culture to the tourism market.
“Tourists are screaming for it, but we’re not organized yet,” he says. “We have to package it up and sell it; get it market-ready and get it to the tourists.”
While he’s only been on the job a week, Hopf has met with some First Nations in the southern part of the region and spoken with stakeholders.
“The resorts I’ve met already, they’ve been saying their clients are always asking for cultural experience,” he says.
While he's excited about the future, he says it could take a couple years before plans really come together.
"The first year is just forming friendships and finding out who is interested," he says. "Then it's writing strategy."
The job is unique in the province, and Hopf isn’t sure if any other positions exist like it in Canada on a regional level. Hopf had a similar job before that dealt with sports, not tourism, in the Northwest Territories, where he’s from, as a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.
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