New pilot project offers 360-degree video tours to boost Indigenous tourism in Ontario
Northern Ontario tour operators have signed on to a new pilot project designed to save the province’s $600 million Indigenous tourism industry from being decimated by the pandemic.
Maheengun Shawanda is a tour operator in Northern Ontario who shares the culture of the Anishnabek people through in-person tours of the land. He says the financial impact of the pandemic has been astronomical.
“Those first few weeks and early months were really scary, genuinely scary, wondering what was going to happen,” Shawanda told CTV News. “We’re looking at losing about 75 to 80 per cent of those contributions to the economy.”
Indigenous Tourism Ontario says they’re working with an Indigenous-owned-and-operated company in Thunder Bay called Origin, to film 360-degree videos of the tour, which can be viewed using a smartphone or a virtual reality headset for a more personal experience.
The company has previously used the technology to train workers on heavy machinery, but the cultural tourism focus is a new priority.
Origin’s owner, Melissa Hardy Giles, says her grandmother has been a source of inspiration for what the technology could achieve.
“If I could turn back the clock, I would have my mumma, Agnes Hardy, telling her stories, playing the guitar and preserving the language,” she said.
The company’s business model is to give tour operators a cut when virtual tourists subscribe for an experience online.
“We’re really hoping to capture the audience that is going to eventually start travelling to our region again and give them just that little bit of what our experience feels like,” says Trina Mather-Simard from the tour company Indigenous Experiences.
All those involved in the project say they are working diligently to keep the doors of discovery open at a time when so many global gateways are shut.