While the recent economic doom and gloom has meant a down season for tourism around the world, for the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association (COTA), it’s been an outstanding year.

Having presented their annual report at the Annual General Assembly at the end of August, the association is feeling as though they came out on top.

“We did come out on top financially because what we did was search for funding outside of our scope. We went to the Ministry of Tourism and they helped us a lot. We also went to other sources, like the Ministère du Développement économique,” said interim Executive Director Sophie Bosum.

The mission of this non-profit organization is to develop and implement a collective vision for a world-class sustainable tourism industry in Eeyou-Istchee in harmony with Cree culture and values, and involving a partnership among Cree communities, institutions and businesses.

While COTA not lose any revenue this year, they have been tremendously productive in helping local entrepreneurs develop more authentic tourism packages through community research and how to market them.

A major portion of this development was through their Footsteps and Paddle Strokes program, where visits were made to individual communities to identify routes, and ascertain their cultural meanings and histories so that these routes could be developed by the local entrepreneurs.

“It is interesting because when you go to each community, they have a different name for each route. They have a route either through a portage trail, some of them will call it kaakuushimeu, which means bear road,” said Bosum.

This particular project was developed with a “four pillars” approach. Developing the “theme routes” was only one aspect. At the same time, the goal was also to develop the packages out of the theme routes, followed by products for them and activities for the communities. This helped them to reach their goals in certain areas of tourism development.

Through Canadian Ecotourism Services, an agency hired by COTA, they were able to get assistance in developing the workshops used to train the entrepreneurs, research the projects and get some expertise in terms of consulting.

Because some learn best by example, COTA was also able to bring together Native and non-Native entrepreneurs for their “Best Practices Tour.” This tour, which happened in 2008 and 2009, was geared at showing entrepreneurs and tour operators a hands-on approach to conducting outfitting tours.

CES also provided various services to the entrepreneurs to help market their businesses, such as information on how to make a video for the business and other marketing tools.

Through CES, COTA has also been able to embark on another project, to take on four different entrepreneurs for entrepreneurial coaching. This particular service is aimed at business plan development and follows through on every step until the business is off the ground.

“It’s been a very successful year for us,” said Bosum enthusiastically.