Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A CES Success Story: Tourism Ontario’s Champion of the Year

CES has had the privilege of working with Kevin Eshkawkogan, the Chief Executive Officer of the Great Spirit Circle Trail Inc. and Great Spirit Circle Trail Touring Company and the CEO of the newly developed Aboriginal Tourism Ontario.. We have collaborated with Kevin on several projects ranging from developing the Aboriginal Tourism Ontario Strategy to working on an Aboriginal Marketing Strategy with Tourism Northern Ontario, as well as other community initiatives throughout Ontario. We first met Kevin back in 2009 on a CES Best Practices Tour to Manitoulin Island and have created a long standing relationship with him.

Kevin recently was awarded Ontario’s Tourism Champion of the Year award so we thought we would share our experience working with Kevin and how he truly deserved that award.

Where it all began…

Kevin is responsible for operating, alongside his team, a cooperative tourism marketing initiative and touring company involving 8 First Nations and local Aboriginal business partners. This initiative has been successful in growing the tourism industry in the Manitoulin Island - Sagamok area of Northern Ontario. Kevin has been a key component in developing the European markets on behalf of the GSCT.  Over the last 6 years, he has participated in several trade missions, trade shows, and dance performances in various international venues.

Kevin has earned a diploma in Business-Accounting from Canadore College, is currently working towards completing the Certified General Accountants program and a degree in Political Science from York University. He is also a graduate from the University of Waterloo Economic Development Program and Confederation College Small Business Counseling Program. He has an extensive background in business development, business management and marketing.

Kevin has been previously employed as a Business Development Officer at the Waubetek Business Development Corporation, an Aboriginal Financial Institution that provides business financing, delivery of the Aboriginal Business Canada program and other business advisory services to Aboriginal entrepreneurs and 27 First Nations throughout northeastern Ontario. In his 4 years of work with Waubetek, he has helped assist with the investment of over 3 million dollars in over 100 Aboriginal businesses to help them expand or become operational. He has been instrumental in assisting with several major community development projects. He has also gained business experience as over the years as Operations Manager for the family-owned Eshkawkogan Timber Company.

Kevin also operates KSK Business Solutions which opened Spirit Island Adventures in 2012, with his partner Melissa. He has also been a key player in building the new Manitoulin Hotel & Conference Centre, a project owned by six First Nations. He is an avid hunter, fisherman, and a grass dancer on the powwow circuit who enjoys participating in traditional powwows throughout Manitoulin Island. He believes strongly that economic and business developments are the solution to the many issues that face Aboriginal people today.

When asked what he plans for the near future and his long-term goals, Kevin  tells us, “Professionally, my plans for the near future include establishing Aboriginal Tourism Ontario, ensuring the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre is operating well as a start-up, growing the Great Spirit Circle Trail a bit more and establishing another revenue generating business or two under the Great Spirit Circle Trail corporate entity. Communally, I plan on letting my name stand for council again in M’Chigeeng to continue my work and vision there for another term. Generally, I plan on living a balanced family and professional life.”

Having a Vision…

On a provincial level, Kevin has been instrumental in the development of an Aboriginal Tourism Ontario organization with the hopes of creating a provincial support system to grow Aboriginal tourism in Ontario. Kevin saw an opportunity with a growing demand in Aboriginal tourism and developing new product, there is a need to help other people develop businesses to grow the industry and he has offered to share his knowledge and expertise in order to move forward. CES was hired to work with Kevin and GSCT on this project.

Through his work in 2014 with the Great Spirit Circle Trail, Aboriginal Tourism Ontario and his additional business endeavours, Kevin Eshkawkogan embodies the spirit of tourism in Ontario.

At a local level, Kevin has a strong desire to improve the local socio-economic situation by employing local people and creating local business opportunities. He personally grew up with his parents having to relocate and move out of his community to find work, so experiencing this first hand has driven him to pursue creating more local business opportunities and sees Aboriginal tourism and its spin-offs being a driving force.

Hard Work and Dedication…

In addition, Kevin has set a goal for myself to become an elected councillor in MChigeeng and to have MChigeeng become self-sustainable as a nation by the year 2020.

At a regional level, he works with 8 First Nations communities and several Aboriginal partners on an ongoing basis to develop and grow Aboriginal tourism development through the Great Spirit Circle Trail.

His accomplishments on a regional level include growing the regional economic impact for the region – from 2004 it grew from less than a million to over $10 million per year in 2014.  This includes all of the spin off businesses that come along with tourism such as gas, groceries, etc. This is a huge accomplishment and they are seeing growth every year.

Kevin is constantly studying and assessing what the needs are and knows there is a need for more of a variety of tourism products in the region. As a result is always looking into opportunities to develop new products on an ongoing basis such as the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre which was launched in 2014. He has identified the need for more accommodation facilities and more inventory for tourism products and services such as transportation, hotels, and food & beverage services. As a result, group tours are growing in 2014.

Continuing to Grow…

At a provincial level, Kevin, along with other visionaries and support, has pushed forward and created momentum for the Aboriginal Tourism Ontario (ATO) organization. He believes if you carry knowledge in a certain area it is your responsibility to share it and that encouraged him to take the lead on this initiative. The creation of a draft strategy for Aboriginal Tourism Ontario was developed in 2009, and it was evident that there was a need for more Aboriginal tourism product across the province and in order to do this a support system was needed. The official launch of the Aboriginal Tourism Ontario was on April 9, 2014 at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre in Little Current, topping off the three-day Great Spirit Circle Trail (GSCT) 9th Annual Business Tourism Conference.

Kevin continues to strive to grow the tourism industry and improve socio-economic conditions for the province. Kevin hopes that a provincial support system will improve the economic impacts and sustainability in Ontario’s First Nations communities. ATO can fill certain roles that can help fill gaps for support like international marketing, and other services like helping businesses become market ready and removing certain stereotypes. This provides an opportunity for communities and businesses to start to share their own stories by owning, operating and running tourism businesses.

Kevin’s leadership with ATO has led to creating new partnerships and connections with First Nations communities which will result in opening up some new doors and helping others see the potential and merit involved with Aboriginal tourism moving forward.

Kevin’s hard work and dedication to the industry demonstrate that you have the ability to create a positive socio-economic impact in your community and region. Our team at CES feels honoured to have worked with Kevin and look forward to future collaborations with him. For more info on the work that Kevin has done or projects that CES has been involved with contact us at or visit us at

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