Emphasizing Indigenous Hotelier Education with Firecircle

Indigenous tourism is a burgeoning pillar within Canadian travel, growing at four times the pace of other tourism sectors and contributing more than $1.7 billion to the GDP from over 1,875 businesses (prior to the pandemic). And despite the crushing impact of the past two years, there is more interest than ever from Indigenous entrepreneurs to take their place in the Canadian hospitality industry. Supporting these ventures in turn presents lucrative opportunities for investors, brands and management companies.

Like many rural and remote operators – whether they’re new to the industry or having been in it for many years – Indigenous hotel businesses often start out from a place of passion and not necessarily from one of formal hospitality experience and enterprise training. The drive is there, but the deep business knowledge is often not, and this is hampering Indigenous participation in the hotel industry as well as the sustainable growth of Canadian tourism.

To get a sense of the scope of this challenge and how to overcome it, we connected with Deneen Allen, Founder and CEO of Firecircle, a membership-based platform for workshops and masterclasses coupled with personalized coaching and mentorship, all purpose-built to uplevel rural Canadian tourism and hospitality operators. Allen has been consulting Indigenous and non-Indigenous clients across Canada since 2008, with this latest educational vehicle working to address the constant knowledge gap she and her team see regularly, along with its impact on the wider travel infrastructure.

Allen is quick to point out that the lack of industry knowledge in rural and remote tourism is by no means exclusive to Indigenous entrepreneurs. Quite the contrary: it’s the lack of available ‘points of reference’ in these communities that act as a dominant barrier to hospitality ownership and growth.

Whereas city-based entrepreneurs are surrounded by commerce, there are sometimes few to no comparative examples of hotel, motel, inn, unique lodging, campsite, foodservice, transportation, guided tour, tourist attraction and cultural activity businesses available to inspire country-based hoteliers . For the same reason, some basic economic concepts may also be absent from their environment.

To answer one possible objection to this challenge, Allen added, “At this point, someone may ask, ‘Why wouldn’t a rural hotelier or restaurateur just travel to seek out these inspirations or simply go on the internet?’ The truth is that this innate level of curiosity must be initiated through education. If a person does not know what they do not know, they also do not know to seek out information they are missing.”

A Hotelier’s Big Why

While the internet may be a treasure trove of amazing resources to help any self-starter direct their operations in a positive direction, Firecircle emphasizes beginning with the operator’s motivations for wanting to work in tourism in the first place. At the very root of every entrepreneur’s vision is their ‘big why’ – the kindling, if you will, that will eventually become a glorious bonfire of a business. Firecircle helps rural operators reflect on this raison d’être, then develop their wherewithal in the fundamental concepts necessary for hospitality small business success.

This is the basis for Firecircle’s 5×5 Method™ that sequentially focuses on these key areas of knowledge:

  1. Understanding basic economics such as supply and demand, free market concepts such as competition, and marketing concepts such as target audiences, pricing and distribution
  2. Gaining deeper knowledge about the tourism industry and running a hotel as well as the role that a hotelier plays in their local, provincial, domestic and international tourism infrastructure
  3. Transforming market-tested tourism ideas into functional, rewarding and sustainable operations
  4. Grasping how critical good physical design is to the current and future success of a hotel or other tourism provider
  5. Learning about income statements, capital expenditures and cash flow as well as how to manage money for financial sustainability

“What’s needed now is immersive learning to ensure that Indigenous hoteliers and tourism operators – and really any rural and remote entrepreneurs – have the tools they need to properly plan, finance, build and grow amazing hospitality businesses,” added Allen.

A Virtuous Circle of Growth

To this end, Firecircle’s focus on education also ensures that would-be hoteliers are better positioned to invest their own capital or to accept outside capital on more equal terms. Currently, many Indigenous communities are being approached for joint ventures and other investment opportunities, but without a firm understanding of these five key areas of knowledge, the chances of a successful partnership are greatly diminished.

Per the introduction, getting more sustainable capital into these areas will inevitably act as a virtuous circle for the entire Canadian travel economy. The first successful project in a remote region attracts more travelers and more capital, then more hotel developments provide space for brand expansions, new management company contracts and third-party suppliers. On the labor side, more jobs in the industry will mean a greater talent pool of experienced hoteliers for existing properties to draw from.

Broader still, we need to take the pressure off the oversubscribed and overvisited destinations across the country – namely the ‘big five’ from East to West including, Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, the Canadian Rockies and Vancouver – by encouraging new entrants into lodging in particular, as well as F&B, cultural activities, outdoor hospitality and recreational businesses. For all these reasons, nurturing aspiring Indigenous hoteliers who will bring new hospitality markets to the forefront is a task we should all support.

Larry Mogelonsky
Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

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