Thursday, March 26, 2015

Aboriginal Tourism Ontario's 1st Annual Business Tourism Conference!

Register now for Aboriginal Tourism Ontario's 1st Annual Business Tourism Conference at Casino Rama! For more info or to register contact

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Authentic Cultural Tourism at its Best

I've been travelling to India for the past 4 years and this year had an opportunity to explore the small villages of Odisha (Orissa) on a FAM tour. I created a partnership with Heritage Tours, a company that specializes in customized cultural tourism experiences in Odisha and other regions throughout India. The focus of this trip was to experience the indigenous culture in the tribal communities.

After a long journey from Canada, I arrived in Visakhapatnam, or Vizag for short, and started to travel directly to Desia in Koraput in order to make it to the tribal market on Thursday. Desia is a community based rural tourism initiative developed by Heritage Tours, the Bantalbiri Village, and a local NGO Barefoot. This initiative focuses on building the capacity and creating economic benefits for the local villages through grassroots tourism as well as empowering local communities to celebrate and preserve their cultural traditions. So many tourism companies claim that they are sustainable and offer authentic cultural experiences and as a tour operator we want to ensure that these claims are in fact true before we start sending clients their way. I was very intrigued with the Desia initiative and was so excited to witness it first hand.

I kept struggling to fight my jet lag while on the 5 hour drive to my destination and was wondering what I was getting myself into, since it was now dark and we were travelling on some pretty rough roads. At around 8pm in the evening, I arrived at Desia and received such a warm welcome from the staff. And I was amazed at the site - the rooms were absolutely beautiful and it had such a good tranquil feel to the place. I instantly felt like I was going to be in good hands.

Upon arrival, I was invited to visit a nearby tribal community to see a celebration for a young girl that has just reached her maturity. Despite my urge to want to go to bed after travelling for 2 days straight, I splashed some water on my face and powered through. It was non-stop singing and dancing and was really interesting to see how alive the tribal culture still is here. I also had my first taste of the local drink from the palm tree, which was nice and refreshing and I recommend trying.

The next day we hopped on a local bus to experience the famous Thursday tribal market. People from the surrounding indigenous villages travel long journeys to sell, trade, and buy local supplies and food, as well as to partake in the tradition of selling and drinking the local alcohol. Men, women, and even children were drinking and this tradition has been going on for years and years. It's nice to find a spot to sit down and to take it all in. To respect the local villagers you are not permitted to take photographs of the people. Photography is permitted in the small villages around Desia and in other local markets. Best thing to do is just to ask your local guide if it's possible to take photographs.

It was so amazing to see how rich the culture still is in the indigenous communities and the guides with Heritage Tours are so well connected and respected amongst the locals that you always feel safe and secure, and the knowledge of the guides is unmatched.

The place has such a great feel to it, and I started to connect with the Desia girls - the young ladies from surrounding villages that work there. I had an opportunity, to visit a few of the girls villages and met their families. That's one of the things I love the most about travelling off the beaten track, you get a chance to build relationships with the people you meet along the way. The genuine kindness of strangers always amazes me. Families that hardly have anything invite you into their homes and off you food and drinks. They even offer to feed you themselves! Even though many of the villagers can't speak English, you have the welcoming feeling that they are happy to have you in their home.

Desia is a place designed to build bridges between cultures and get a real feel for local community life. It's best to keep an open schedule and go with the flow since there are small local events and festivals that are always taking place. I loved just going for walks and visiting the surrounding local villages. We also had a picnic with the staff at a beautiful waterfall and it was a nice outing to just hang out with the staff and relax in a beautiful setting.

In all of my years working within the tourism industry as a consultant, a tour operator, and a traveller I've never come across such a great model that has actually been implemented and having amazing results with the community members. For those of you interested in learning more about this project and/or to plan a potential best practices tour to visit the site contact for more details.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

CES’s Pando Terra™

We do a lot of planning here at CES; mostly for our clients in the form of business plans, and community and regional strategies.

As we’re getting ready to begin working with another community on a cohesive community tourism plan I wanted to take a minute to express how powerful this type of plan can be.

In a community with a multitude of committees, departments, and special interest groups – lead by a Council or Committee that is made up of individuals who themselves may have different visions and priorities – it becomes increasingly valuable to have a unified tourism plan.

Your plan needs to listen to all voices, and address every element of your community that will create a sustainable platform for your local tourism industry. Without this comprehensive approach your community runs the risk of incongruent initiatives, contradictory development, and wasted time and money in the process.

Create a Tourism Committee made up of representatives from your Tourism Department, Recreation Department, Culture & Heritage Department, School Board, Economic Development Department, Youth Department, Council, etc.  Make them the custodians of your plan; this way, if there is a change in local politics the plan can remain in effect, securely in the hands of the Tourism Committee.

CES’s Pando Terra™ Tourism Master Plan process addresses 7 critical elements of community sustainability, and promotes a cooperative platform for tourism development. And unlike traditional 3 to 5 year plans, Pando Terra™ is designed to be a fluid planning tool, adapting to changing realities and maintaining its functionality years into the future.

If you’d like to learn more about our approach to planning, send me an email at, or call me toll free at 1-877-444-5550.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Community App Testimonial from Kitselas First Nation

Find out what the My Community App Project means to Web Bennet from Kitselas First Nation. Check out this video at  My Community App Project

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Building Sustainable Relationships with Industry – A Couple Stories to Share

Consultation and communication between the Resource Extraction Industry and First Nations communities has its challenges. Many of the projects take place in remote communities on indigenous lands, resulting in social and environmental impacts. So how can we build more sustainable relationships between communities and industry?

The Resource Extraction Industry is receiving increased pressure to provide support to the communities they work with. Projects that support cultural preservation, economic development and capacity building programs are priorities for most Resource Extraction Companies. If a community is moving forward in working with industry it only makes sense that an Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA) includes preservation of culture along with responsible and sustainable socioeconomic development.  These partnerships can be win-win and work towards creating symbiotic relationships between industry and communities while putting First Nation’s culture and values first!

CES’s mandate has always been to support local community development initiatives that ensure preservation of culture through responsible socioeconomic development and empowerment.  Over the past few years we’ve created an interactive mobile platform that allows communities to celebrate the spirit and identity of their people through digital storytelling, known as the My Community App. The My Community App provides a platform for community members to share their voice and enables them to support their goals and celebrate their story and culture.

West Moberly Storyscapes App
For many communities, funding has always been a roadblock in bringing these types of projects to life, so we thought we would share some success stories from the communities that we’ve worked with to get these projects off the ground.

Teck Resources Ltd. and West Moberly First Nation teamed up to create the Storyscapes Project. Teck inc. committed to working with West Moberly to bridge their communication gap through a digital storytelling project that shares the spirit and identity of West Moberly First Nation on an interactive App. This mobile App provides an understanding of the community’s culture, their modern way of living, and what’s important to them. The App can be found at

In Kitselas First Nation, Chevron provided funding support to assist them in moving forward with their digital storytelling project. It was Web Bennet, the Coordinator for the Kitselas Canyon Historic Site’s dream to see this project come to life and Chevron provided them an opportunity to move forward with this initiative in order to help preserve their culture and share their history with the world. This project is still currently in development.

Web and Audrey Bennet from Kitselas First Nation
There are also other Resource Extraction Companies across Canada that are providing support to move projects such as these forward such as Noront Resources and De Beers Canada. It is up to the communities to take the initiative and collaborate with industry to bring their projects to life.   By working together with CES, communities and industry can benefit greatly. CES has the tools and resources to help both industry and communities to work together in preserving and building meaningful relationships.  As part of our own corporate social responsibility, CES also provides ongoing support for proposal writing, filling out funding applications, and programs that offer in-kind contributions to move community initiatives forward.

For more information and ideas on how to get started contact