The schedule and speakers for the first-ever Indigenous Tourism Forum of the Americas (ITF), October 12-16, 2020, were announced this week. The one-of-a-kind virtual networking event promises to give Indigenous communities the resources — and the voice — they need to shape their own narrative in the broader cultural conversation and to use tourism as a tool for effective change.
Organized by the Organization of American States and the George Washington University International Institute of Tourism Studies in collaboration with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the event will bring Indigenous, business, and government leaders from the United States, Canada and Central and South America together in a unique virtual forum. A program of keynote addresses, networking sessions, workshops and panel talks will encourage dialogue around the needs and priorities facing Indigenous Peoples looking to include tourism in their plans for the future.
"For Indigenous communities in particular, tourism has the potential to drive sustainable development and support economic recovery post-COVID,” explains Seleni Matus, director of the GW International Institute of Tourism Studies. “Even though these communities are still shut down to outsiders, now is the time to plan for the future and to ensure that tourism plays a meaningful role going forward so that communities can directly benefit economically from the increasing numbers of people around the world who are searching for authentic travel experiences."
The event will feature keynote speakers Loretta Barrett Oden, an Emmy-award winning host of PBS's Seasoned with Spirit, Kevin Eshkawkogan, president and CEO of Indigenous Tourism Ontario in Canada, and Brian Vallo, governor of the Pueblo of Acoma tribe in New Mexico, who will provide the opening statement on the first day of ITF. Each will explore themes of re-establishing connections through experiences, empowerment and ownership, and building resilience.
A series of roundtable sessions will feature a host of Indigenous tourism practitioners, political figures, advocates for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, tour operators and Indigenous businesses. Expert speakers include Petita Ayarza, the first Guna congresswoman in Panama's National Assembly; Ben Sherman, chairman of the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance Leadership Council; and Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, to name a few.
The panel talks, which will center on topics such as "Which Tourism Experiences will be Feasible for Communities and Attractive to Visitors Post-COVID-19?" and "Protection of Intellectual and Cultural Property," will be moderated by Mark Trahant, editor, Indian Country Today; Norie Quintos, editor at large for National Geographic Travel Media; Hannah Bloch, lead digital editor, NPR; Jeri Clausing, senior editor, Travel Weekly; and Rafat Ali, CEO & founder, Skift.
The five-day schedule will also feature virtual tours of various destinations, interactive workshops, on-demand webinar recordings and networking sessions showcasing themes of storytelling and cuisine.