Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Funding Available for Digital Storytelling App!

Receive up to $10,000 in funding towards Digital Storytelling App Development
with Canadian Ecotourism Services (CES)'s Cultural Preservation Initiative (CPI)!

Celebrate and preserve your unique culture and heritage
Map and Share the spirit and identity of your people
Create a digital living museum of your community
Develop an innovative app that showcases stories from your 
past, present and future

Engage youth & elders in protecting your culture!

Amanda recording stories at the Traditional Feast in Moose Factory, Ontario
The High School students editing some video clips in Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut

CES has implemented 5 projects across Canada and experiencing the amazing impact it's had on the community led to providing up to $10,000 of in kind services towards the development of the project. 

What makes this project successful is using a community-driven approach and involving as many community members as possible throughout the stages of the project, especially targeting the Youth and Elders. We train the Youth and community members on interviewing, data recording techniques, video editing, and the content management system for the App.

Call now to apply – 1-877-444-5550

Or visit us at

Time is limited, must call before November 20, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

Press Release for Aboriginal Tourism Ontario - ATO

Aboriginal Tourism Ontario - ATO
Kevin Eshkawkogan
Aboriginal Tourism Ontario
Telephone 1-877-710-3211
or 1-705-377-4425

ATO 2020 Plan – putting Aboriginal Tourism into Focus in Ontario
The time is Now!
Press release

Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Monday, October 19, 2015 — Aboriginal Tourism Ontario (ATO) will be releasing their updated 2020 Plan with promising findings that clearly identify how ATO can manage the future of Ontario’s indigenous tourism for communities, businesses and partners while bolstering the economy with jobs and revenue. But timing is everything!

ATO completed a province-wide stakeholder consultation and support process funded by The Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport this summer that helped ATO gain solid recommendations for launching an independent organization for Ontario’s indigenous tourism sector. “We respectfully engaged our Aboriginal partners, communities, businesses, and champions to be part of this critical step in mobilizing Aboriginal Tourism Ontario” says Kevin Eshkawkogan, CEO of the Great Spirit Circle Trail (GSCT), and one of 4 nominees for TIAO’s 2015 Tourism Champion of the Year Award. Mr. Eshkawkogan has championed the ATO concept since its inception and has been a strong advocate for aboriginal tourism in Ontario. Mr. Eshkawkogan said “The time is now! We have diligently done our homework with limited resources and now is the time to get the support Aboriginal Tourism Ontario requires to help improve the economic era we’re in. We need to put our plan into play – the time is now!”

Why now?  Eshkawkogan says “We have been supporting this grassroots initiative with limited resources since 2008; if ATO is going to work we need to do it right, and not part time with limited resources.  We are experiencing positive growth in the industry and we can’t provide the support our industry deserves without proper investment.  We need Federal and Provincial leadership to recognize our sector’s contribution to the economy by providing financial and political support to an Aboriginal tourism organization that will continue to grow our economy.

Other provinces such as BC have supported the Aboriginal tourism sector with Federal and Provincial investments of $10 million over a period of 5 years and have seen a fantastic return on that investment. This is what ATO wants to do in Ontario – support our communities and grow the Ontario and national economies.”

Eshkawkogan says that “the investment required now and over the next 5 years is small but will yield a major return.  Investing in ATO provides returns that are estimated in the double digits. With Ontario capturing 30% of Canada’s total Aboriginal tourism spending output totalling $1.7 billion this past year, there is an opportunity for our Provincial and Federal Governments to invest into the immediate needs and the long-term execution of the ATO Strategy & Business Plan.”

A recent national research study published by the Aboriginal Tourism Association of Canada (ATAC) in 2015 supports Eshkawkogan’s observations. Eshkawkogan added “When you do the math on a return on investment (ROI) with a 1.6% growth annually, Aboriginal tourism will generate over $12 billion for our economy over the next 5 years. And when this investment only requires $6.8 million over those 5 years, it becomes clear why we need to invest in ATO as an independent organization.”

ATO’s 2020 Plan calls for just over $1 million for implementation and management of 5 key initiatives, with immediate priorities such as getting the organization up and running independently and efficiently with an assigned budget and commitment in place.  This is a win-win for our industry partners, businesses and most importantly, Ontarians and Canadians. 

Partnerships and investment are central to the ATO 2020 Plan, having the organization running will make it possible to fully participate in meaningful dialogue and work with our partners; Working with partners such as the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, the Regional Tourism Organizations (RTOs), and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO) to engage with regional and provincial industry leaders is critical to growing the industry for all. Supporting each other helps support the Strategic Framework for Tourism in Ontario.  Working with partners like ATAC will allow us to collaboratively strengthen the national aboriginal tourism industry and national economy.

The Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport has supported GSCT to further grow ATO by funding some of the engagement initiatives that included studies, interviews, completing surveys, attending sponsored webinars, regional workshops and updating of the ATO 2020 strategy and business plan. Mr. Eshkawkogan said “We are very thankful to our partners and communities that helped us with the development of our 2020 plan. This was an important step in helping us understand the needs and priorities of our stakeholders – we did this together and now is the time to support and invest in Aboriginal tourism Ontario.”

ATO wants to work together with industry, communities and partners to build an independent and sustainable entity that will support and increase indigenous tourism in Ontario and Canada.

See below.

ATO - 2020 Strategic Plan Background:

Aboriginal Tourism Ontario 2020 is based on making our province an authentic tourism destination that will attract visitors from within Canada and abroad based on a brand of market ready indigenous tourism products and services. It’s time to make Aboriginal tourism a priority in Ontario by launching and supporting an independent organization that is completely dedicated to positively reshaping our province’s future for indigenous tourism. The time is now!

Our 2020 Strategic Goals are:

  1. Developing Operational Sustainability & Brand Integrity
  2. Building Capacity & Increasing Economic Opportunities
  3. Marketing & Branding Authentic Products & Services
  4. Providing Support for Communities & Entrepreneurs

Our 2020 Vision is built on stakeholders who have overwhelmingly supported a single organization dedicated to building aboriginal tourism in Ontario.  Our collective vision supports an organization that will ‘responsibly develop, market and grow Ontario’s indigenous tourism industry with values and integrity.’ We will ensure our growth adheres to responsible tourism guidelines that promote sustainability, environmental stewardship, innovation and technology.

Our Mission is to assist indigenous communities and entrepreneurs with programs that build capacity to produce high quality products and services. Our success will be guided by the positive impact on our people, the environment and the economy.  For our welcomed visitors and tourists we will ensure that our products and services provide a meaningful and memorable indigenous experience.

Our guiding Principles assist us in gaining organizational sustainability; in utilizing an innovative grassroots approach; in attracting investment & develop partnerships; and implementing ATO 2020 key initiatives.

ATO’s 5 Key Initiatives:
  1. Transition and Launch of ATO Operation
  2. Focus on ATO Rebrand & New Marketing Efforts
  3. Promote and Deliver Capacity Building Programs and Services
  4. Implement and Develop the Authentic Indigenous Moments Program (AIM)
  5. Develop Regional and Provincial Partnerships

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Volunteer Travel - A Raw Authentic Experience

Many people are looking for travel opportunities to become more involved with the community and to actually make an impact while they visit. Volunteer travel experiences open new doors for creating amazing experiences for visitors while benefiting the communities that they visit. 

Amanda Huculak, part of the CES team, also is the Co-Founder of Travel Roots, a socially responsible tour operator that designs unique adventures across the globe and is also involved with volunteer travel. She recently returned from leading a group volunteer adventure to the Maldives and this experience demonstrates that you don't need to have much to get started in volunteer travel opportunities. 

In this day and age it’s always a hard task to find untouched travel experiences… as a grassroots tour operator Travel Roots is always looking for those destinations or local partners that offer authentic experiences and something different from the usual travel adventure. Most of their partners are smaller grassroots businesses that really need the support of an outside organization in order to take their business to the next level and they are proud to support these types of initiatives. Using this approach they connected with Huvadhoo Aid, a not-for-profit located in southern Maldives in the Huvadhoo Atoll. They strive to bring peace, prosperity and progress to the local communities and they have opened their doors to accepting international volunteers to help with various community development projects. Sure there are some growing pains and a few hiccups along the way, but with continued organizational development and training there are a lot of great opportunities that lie ahead for Huvadhoo Aid’s volunteer program.
Amanda visited the organization’s home community of Hoadedhdhoo January 2015 and loved the concept of an authentic community-based experience in the Maldives. She then decided to recruit a group of volunteers from around the globe to participate in a 3 week volunteer excursion August 10 – 31, 2015. It ended up being quite an amazing and unique adventure. She was so happy to see the group of volunteers create such a strong bond and kept a very open mind during the trip despite a lot of changes in the itinerary and having to adapt to the local realities.
Upon arrival, they instantly had to adjust into the ‘island’ lifestyle which involved slowing things down – sometimes a little too slow :), changing your diet to mostly fish and rice, dealing with the elements like the heat, the rain, the bugs, and the marine creatures, and dealing with the Maldivians extremely laid back demeanour. A typical saying in the Maldives is ‘no problem… we can arrange…’ and ‘why not!’. They really try to go out of their way to give you the local experience.
Since there is no tourism on the island, everyone is treated like a local and some of her favourite moments were just walking around the community and getting to know the locals. Every day between 4 – 6pm the community would be out playing sports or hanging out at either the jetty or the football field. This is a great time to bond with locals, whether it’s playing volleyball, football, or bashi – a local women’s sport similar to tennis but played a little ‘backwards’.
In addition to experiencing life in the community they got a chance to explore the nearby uninhabited islands and went snorkelling, wakeboarding, fishing, and we even spent the night on an uninhabited island that was managed by Zakir, a kind Bangladesh man that was stationed there to be a guardian for the island and try to earn money to send home to his family. He was such an amazing man and made sure they were always well taken care of while they were on his island.
What made this trip so special, was that it attracted such an amazing group of individuals from around the world! Their wonderful spirit of volunteerism and a willingness to learn about a new lifestyle and culture was so beautiful to experience. So this experience proves that volunteer travel can be a rewarding experience if done responsibly. For advice on how to get involved with volunteer travel contact Amanda at 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Search for Authentic Tourism Products…

More and more tourists are searching for experiences that connect them to diverse cultures in an unplanned spontaneous way that seems authentic and genuine. Traditional travel adventures such as mass market bus tours, the all-inclusive resorts, and jam packed travel itineraries are becoming a thing of the past. People are looking for something more different… more authentic.

To encourage more authentic cultural tourism products CES first developed the Spontaneous Tourism Model™. This model represents a managed version of the type of tourism activities that are taking place in many indigenous communities throughout the world already – a visitor calls the Community Tourism Office, expresses an interest in various activities in the community, and the Tourism Officer recruits Guides/Tour Delivery Agents to facilitate the request - or sometimes lead the activity themselves.  These activities are considered ‘static’, meaning that the opportunity to deliver them exists regardless of whether or not an entrepreneur chooses to build a business around one of them.

Using the community’s resources, infrastructure and technology, this model becomes an incubator for new products, entrepreneurs and new and existing businesses. This approach allows local individuals to offer unique tourism experiences without the need to quit their job, develop a business plan or take the risk of opening a new venture.

Since the development of this concept, another model was discovered referred to as the Vayable Tourism Model. Vayable is an organization dedicated to enabling entrepreneurship, cultural exchange, community-building and exploration worldwide by empowering people to share experiences with others. Vayable’s model is built upon the following principles:

1. Improve people’s lives through cultural exchange

2. New way to experience local culture – provides a service that connects individuals looking to experience honest, local culture through experiences created and hosted by passionate local Insiders

3. Experiences are created by ‘Independent Insiders’ – artists, designers, foodies, teachers, photographers, guides, Elders and everyone else can create and operate their own experiences. Each Independent Insider creates, curates, and takes on full responsibility for the experiences they offer. Vayable is the platform and a resource – they do not run or host the experiences. Anyone can create an experience on Vayable as long as it meets their guidelines.

4. People have been travelling this way for generations – provide opportunities for individuals who aspire to enrich their understanding of the world and themselves.

5. Providing long lasting meaning and fulfillment from experiences – the survival of the tourism industry relies heavily on the communities that sustain it. For many countries, tourism presents the greatest promise of prosperity and economic mobility. Vayable provides these communities with a new, safe and fun way to accomplish this.

6. Participants help individuals support their passion while sustaining a culture and building a community – visitors have an opportunity to help empower local entrepreneurs to earn a living from their passions, knowledge and skills. This results in creating a positive impact on the community by helping to keep culture alive and bringing local commerce to neighbourhoods and towns that may otherwise not have access to capital and traditional tourist centres.

The ‘local insider’ is responsible for designing the experience and personalized profile that is shared on the website. This personalized approach begins to create a connection between the visitor and their guide before they even go on the tour. As far as standards and guidelines go, it is kept pretty simple. Anyone with unique knowledge, skills or access can earn money offering an experience as a Vayable Insider. The only thing that Vayable enforces is that all Insiders offer quality well fleshed-out experiences and have safety precautions for visitors.

The ‘local insider’ is responsible for designing the experience and personalized profile that is shared on the website. This personalized approach begins to create a connection between the visitor and their guide before they even go on the tour. As far as standards and guidelines go, it is kept pretty simple. Anyone with unique knowledge, skills or access can earn money offering an experience as a Vayable Insider. The only thing that Vayable enforces is that all Insiders offer quality well-fleshed out experiences and have safety precautions for visitors.

It’s models like this that are celebrating authentic experiences and something different from the norm.  These models focus more on creating a genuine relationship with the visitor and the host.

CES is currently working on developing a strategy for Aboriginal Tourism Ontario that strongly recommends pursuing an approach like this to develop authentic indigenous tourism products throughout the province. This innovative model will change the future of indigenous tourism development and focus on empowering local community members to share their culture and do what they are passionate about, whether it is guided experiences on the land to learn traditional survival skills, how to make the best bannock, or sitting around a fire telling stories and legends of the past.

CES looks forward to seeing what the future holds for innovative tourism ideas!

For more information on this concept contact