The tourism industry may have been hit hard by the pandemic, but new hope is on the horizon for a tour guide on Vancouver Island.

Homalco Wildlife & Culture Tours (HWCT), an Indigenous community-owned organization based out of Campbell River, is actually expanding for the 2021 season.

After it halted operations last year, HWCT is back stronger than ever.

It’s not only opening a new Homalco Adventure Centre this spring, but it’s also launching two new state-of-the-art adventure tour vessels and introducing a new ‘Whales, Wildlife and Culture Tour’.

“After a long year of restricted business, we are really looking forward to an exciting spring of substantial expansions for our organization,” says tourism development officer JP Obbagy.

Despite pandemic-related supply chain delays, Obbagy confirms the buildout of the Centre, manufacturing of the watercrafts and tour staffing are underway with safety protocols top of mind.

The Homalco Adventure Centre will be located in Campbell River’s Discovery Harbour Mall, designed to immerse visitors in First Nations culture at the outset. It will feature art from various local First Nation artists, guidebooks and more.

A defining component of the HWCT tours will be two new landing craft boats, which it says offers zodiac-style, fresh-air seats and comfort seating providing protection inside the cozy cabin.

According to Obbagy, “Safety is our number one priority, and we are employing the expertise of the best mariners in the business to ensure we’ve identified and addressed all vessel safety concerns.”

The new ‘Whales, Wildlife and Culture Tour’ is described as “something totally unique on the Island.” It will expand the expertise of HWCT’s team with the addition of marine naturalists, skippers and Indigenous guides.

And, while HWCT anticipates international restrictions will “likely still be in effect,” tour coordinator Shirley Badger is confident the tours will still fill.

“We have seen tremendous interest in Indigenous tourism from our domestic market and our own provincial residents who are passionate about wildlife, culture and the natural beauty to be found in the Territory of the Homalco,” Badger says.

For Homalco Chief Darren Blaney, the expansion not only comes as great news but also “spells progress for the Homalco First Nation.”

“While COVID-19 is still a factor for the foreseeable future, our Homalco First Nation is ready to welcome visitors again, for now, and as long as we deem it safe to do so,” Blaney adds.