A Homalco member poses in their traditional attire. (Photo courtesy Homalco Tours)

Indigenous B.C. tour operator keeps culture alive through virtual journeys in COVID-19 era

Campbell River based Homalco Tours is also setting up live cameras for bear viewing in Orford

Through Instagram stories, viewers spent three days in Orford Bay reserve – the traditional land of Homalco First Nation – with Campbell River-based indigenous tour operator, Homalco Wildlife and Cultural Tours.

Even though COVID-19 has caused a million-dollar revenue loss with most tours cancelled this season, Homalco Tours wanted to uphold the ethos of their brand, said their tourism development officer, JP Obaggy.

As a social enterprise, “cultural revitalization” and “cultural enhancement” are equally important for the tour operator and they plan to concentrate on that even if business takes a while to pick up momentum.

Spread across a series of posts, viewers were taken across the waters of Bute Inlet, introduced to a grizzly feeding near the shore, taken into lush forests, and given a glimpse of Homalco First Nation member Janet Wilson offering a strand of her hair to a cedar tree as token, before cedar pulling. This was Homalco tour’s “Instagram takeover” on Indigenous B.C.’s social media.

Informative and visually appealing, these cultural stories have been the foundations of indigenous tourism, said Obaggy.

Even though the pandemic has disrupted the business-side of tourism, as a social enterprise, Homalco Tours will continue to promote the culture of the First Nation, he said.

“We can’t do our cultural offerings in person this year, so we decided to go virtual,” said Obaggy.

Going further, the tour operator has received funding from Island Coastal Economic Trust’s Small Capital Restart Funding Stream to install live video cameras in Orford Bay for bear viewing. The project will also work closely with a wildlife biologist to provide a more interactive and personal experience for viewers.

“Through the broadcast, people can still see the bears even if they are not here and our goal is to increase awareness for the research and rehabilitation efforts that we have going on,” said Obaggy.

An award-winning enterprise, Homalco Tours has been around for over 21 years. But this is the first time they’ve witnessed such a major disruption in business. Obaggy said that 80 per cent of their clientele are mostly international tourists and business dipped after the onset of the pandemic.

The 16-staff enterprise is now down to three staff members and all tours have been cancelled for 2020.

Unlike other tour operators in the province who are slowly restarting, Obaggy said that it’s not the same for indigenous tour operators.

When it comes to indigenous tourism, restarting is a bit more complex since most First Nations are still under lock-down and are cautious about letting visitors into their territories, said Obaggy.

“There’s also more concerns around infection among First Nation communities, including Homalco, since there’s a greater number of high-risk population and elders.”

While communities are still cautious, the tour operator will continue to leverage on cultural stories until travelling to traditional territories is back on the cards.

READ ALSO: Resiliency program set up to help Island tourism through ‘grim’ times

READ ALSO: Tourism Vancouver Island focused on helping businesses survive the season

First NationsTourism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dougal the blind raven enjoys role as ambassador at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre

Bird helps animal care technicians teach visitors about his species

RCMP: Trio arrested, firearms seized after report of shots fired in rural Qualicum Beach

Police say search also found evidence of large-scale drug operation

UPDATE: Qualicum Beach man, 51, dies in kayaking incident

No foul play suspected; body was found floating near Lasqueti Island

Heavy rain and strong winds forecast for Parksville Qualicum Beach region

Environment Canada issues wind warning as ‘vigorous’ frontal system approaches

B.C. reports 96 new COVID-19 cases, one hospital outbreak

61 people in hospital as summer ends with election

‘Unprecedented’ coalition demands end to B.C. salmon farms

First Nations, commercial fishermen among group calling for action on Cohen recommendations

Earthquake off coast of Washington recorded at 4.1 magnitude

The quake was recorded at a depth of 10 kilometres

B.C.’s top doctor says she’s received abuse, death threats during COVID-19 response

Henry has become a national figure during her time leading B.C.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

BC Liberals must change gears from election cynicism, focus on the issues: UBC professors

COVID-19 response and recovery is likely to dominate platforms

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. could be without a new leader for multiple weeks after Election Day: officials

More than 20K mail-in voting packages were requested within a day of B.C. election being called

Vancouver Island sailor stranded in U.S. hospital after suffering massive stroke at sea

Oak Bay man was attempting to circumnavigate the world solo

Majority needed to pass COVID-19 budget, B.C. premier says

John Horgan pushes urgent care centres in first campaign stop

Most Read