Bella Guest Cabins

This article appears courtesy of Coast Funds, and a full version of the story can be viewed on their website.
Bella Guest Cabins: The Growth of Small Business in Haíɫzaqv Territory
For years Cliff and Ramona Starr knew they wanted to own a small business in their community of Bella Bella. Careful market research, detailed business planning, and tireless fundraising paid off: in 2014, the Starrs opened Bella Guest Cabins. Three years later, their business had reached a point where they were able to expand by adding a third self-contained suite, with the support of Coast Funds, an Indigenous-led conservation finance organization.
“We have taken great pride in making this a friendly place to stay that is cozy, comfortable, and tastefully decorated,” the Bella Guest Cabins website announces to prospective visitors. “The spacious decks boast a fantastic place to enjoy your morning coffee, and watch the eagles soar and ocean waves come in.”
Though it is one of the few accommodation businesses in Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) territory, the Starr’s business is part of a growing Indigenous small business economy in BC. And at home, the cabins are playing a role in diversifying the economy in Bella Bella by capturing a growing ecotourism industry, and referring visitors to other local businesses.
Since the 1980s—when the Bella Bella Hotel closed down following the collapse of the fishing industry—there was a strong demand for accommodations in the small town. Filling that gap in accommodation demand would mean being able to capitalize on the high levels of tourism traffic coming through Haíɫzaqv territory during the summer months.
K̓áwáziɫ Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, says one of the Nation’s economic development goals is to develop their tourism industry and opportunities for Haíɫzaqv members to participate in. “One of the reasons, and one of the things that we’ve looked at with tourism, is for the most part it’s non-extractive,” says K̓áwáziɫ. “It’s something that is very sustainable for us.”
The Starrs knew they wanted to be one of those successful tourism businesses. Cliff and Ramona began working on their business plan in 2009 and would spend the next five years raising the necessary capital, finding a suitable space to build, and working with others to improve their business plan.
Starting a small business on a First Nations reserve means overcoming a number of unique barriers: finding available property to build and open a business; getting the support of band council, local businesses, and community members; and locating an accountant who understands First Nations business taxes are just a few of the challenges faced by Indigenous entrepreneurs.
In spite of those barriers, Cliff and Ramona Starr have found success with their small accommodation business. Perhaps it speaks to a fortitude of focus, determination, and patience, or perhaps it’s just that age-old instinct akin to every living being on the planet: find a niche and excel in it.
Medric Reid, former Heiltsuk councillor, says Bella Guest Cabins has kickstarted a greater interest in small business within the community. “There has been a handful of other community members who have expressed an interest in wanting to pursue small business opportunities,” he notes. “It was an excellent opportunity to start to establish these different opportunities [like Bella Guest Cabins]. Not only for our membership but for our Nation as a whole.”
This article appears courtesy of Coast Funds, and a full version of the story can be viewed on their website.