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

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

Just Posted

Saanich Neighbourhood Place is hoping to open the doors to its new centre in July, pending final council approval. (Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich childcare agency awaits final approval on much-needed new facility

Saanich Neighbourhood Place keen to open new centre this summer, expand options for community

Proposed design for the Topaz Park bike and skate park elements. (Courtesy City of Victoria)
Victoria requesting feedback on Topaz Park redesign

Public input now being taken for proposed skate, bike park ideas

Victoria police are searching for high-risk missing woman Chloe Morrison who was last seen in Victoria June 13. (Courtesy of VicPD)
MISSING: Chloe Morrison, last seen in Victoria

Morrison, 25, was last seen shortly after 2 p.m. June 13

Processed sewage is still being deposited at the Hartland landfill rather than sent as biosolids to a Richmond cement plant. (Black Press Media file photo)
Biosolids at Hartland still being placed on landfill in Saanich

Richmond cement plant up and running, but CRD end product not suitable for purpose

A patio built by The Village is shared by three eateries in Estevan. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)
Oak Bay eateries sharing communal patio space in Estevan Village

The Village invested $25,000 in streetside patio, hopes to make it permanent

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Neighbours on edge of Nanaimo city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

Darren Campbell’s truck (pictured) was stolen when he stopped to check on a car in a ditch on Cowichan Bay Road on Monday morning. (Facebook photo)
Vancouver Island Good Samaritan’s truck stolen in nasty trick

‘Try to be a Good Samaritan and my $20,000 truck gets stolen right under my nose’

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Creative handmade signs abound at the June 13 Tofino rally for old growth trees. (Nora O’Malley photo)
VIDEO: Tofino stands in solidarity for Fairy Creek Blockades

Over 150 supporters attend rally hosted by Friends of Clayoquot Sound

Most Read