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At the Height of the Covid Pandemic, a Radical Indigenous Hemispheric Collaboration Was Born

Can Indigenous communities develop tourism that enhances cultural traditions while generating needed income? How can this tourism speed recovery, build capacity, and increase resilience from pandemics?

In October of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the George Washington University International Institute of Tourism Studies (GW IITS), in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Indian Economic Development (OIED), held a virtual conference – The Indigenous Tourism Forum of the Americas – to explore answers to those complex questions.

The conference inspired the creation of the Indigenous Tourism Collaborative of the Americas (ITCA), a network of Indigenous and tourism industry leaders that share knowledge, exchange ideas, take collective action, and discuss how to promote change via tourism—without compromising cultural traditions.

ITCA is the first inter-hemispheric Indigenous collaboration of its kind, and participation in it by the OAS and OIED had to be approved by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The Collaborative was officially unveiled by Kathryn Isom-Clause, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior at a Ministerial meeting organized by the Organization of American States and hosted by Paraguay in October of 2021. Said Clause: “As Indigenous tourism continues to face one of its greatest challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic, let us work together to reconstruct and rebuild a prosperous and resilient Indigenous tourism economy.”

The work of ITCA is steered by the GW IITS, the OAS and OIED in the U.S. Department of the Interior. ITCA’s mission and agenda are supported by the National Congress of the American Indians and the White House Council on Native American Affairs.

Since the establishment of ITCA, the more than 90 participants who are either part of the Indigenous Leaders Advisory Committee or the Tourism Industry Advisory Group, have contributed to quarterly dialogues and webinars to strategize how to build resilience into pandemic recovery, build tourism capacity and gain respect in government and industry. The Collaborative has organized itself into teams around those themes to take action on projects and priorities.

The ITCA’s first priority project is the creation of an Indigenous Tourism Portal – including an eLibrary – which offers a variety of tools and resources to support a variety of Indigenous tourism stakeholders. This portal is anticipated to expand during future project phases to include job listings, a marketplace, and other helpful resources and information. The Portal will be launched in August 2023 in celebration of The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

“The Collaborative has been extremely proactive. We are completing our first major project, the Indigenous Tourism Portal, and we’ve collected hundreds of resources to populate a searchable database. We look forward to constantly updating and expanding it to meet the ongoing resource needs of Indigenous tourism communities throughout the northern and southern hemispheres and the world,” says Seleni Matus, Executive Director, International Institute of Tourism Studies.

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