Angela Nagy, president and CEO of Greenstep Solutions, a multi-faceted sustainable services company based in Kelowna. Photo: Barry Gerding/Black Press

B.C. tourism can lead in long-term sustainability

Facing the realities of climate change, collaboration and conserving ecosystems

The path to a long-term sustainable tourism industry must address impacts of climate change and environment restoration.

Jill Doucette, with Synergy Enterprises, says tourism growth has been a destructive force in some countries, and cites the examples of Hawaii and Peru where tourism has thrived but with little benefit to the Indigenous people of those countries.

“There is something very wrong with that. We need to collectively change our mindset about conservation within the context of growing our businesses, growing our tourism industry,” she said.

Doucette was joined by Angela Nagy, founder of GreenStep Solutions in Kelowna, for a workshop on ideas to develop a sustainable tourism industry at the BC Tourism Industry conference taking place in Kelowna on Friday.

Doucette said climate impact on tourism was a focus of a three-day conference at Victoria in January, where she said some uncomfortable debate took place concerning the relationship between a clean environment and tourism growth, and the need within government ministries to collaborate more effectively on tourism industry crossover interests.

Related: Five steps to building sustainability

“The thing about tourism is that it touches on many branches of government, but it was clear to many of us that is not currently being recognized in policy decisions,” Doucette said.

Regarding climate change, Doucette noted that Canada is committed to a 30 per cent reduction in 2005 emission standards by 2030, while B.C.’s goal is 80 per cent reduction to 2007 emission levels by 2050.

But she noted other communities, industries and countries are already initiating policies designed to enhance environment protection within the tourism industry.

She cited the example of Tofino, on Vancouver Island, which adopted a community-wide ban on straws, and France which has set 2020 for the regulatory enforcement of a ban on plastic plates, cups and cutlery.

Plastic garbage litter on beaches is an environment hazard and landfill disposal headache to deal with, she noted, and can be a detrimental aspect to tourism promotion.

She said Qantas Airlines is already using biofuels to replace jet fuel airplanes flying out of Los Angeles to Australia.

She said setting a responsible tone for the footprint left behind by visiting tourists is an important element of any sustainable tourism development strategy, and that tone has to be set by local tourism operators and governments.

Nagy said the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association made a strong step in that direction, undertaking a rigorous process to be accredited by the Responsible Tourism Institute with a biosphere destination certificate.

The Thompson-Okanagan region is one of only 20 areas around the world, and the only one in North America, to earn this designation to earn recognition

She said the process involved nearly 140 questions that had to be answered, requiring interviews with government, community and tourism leader industries to complete.

Related: TOTA recognized for responsible tourism

“Now (TOTA) has a framework in place to move forward and engage local government in policy issues related to tourism,” Nagy said.

Doucette added that while it’s impossible to plan for weather related disasters such as the flooding and wildfires experienced last spring and summer across the Southern Interior, she said we can prepare for how to react to them.

“We want to make sure our tourism guests first and foremost are safe. We had a tsunami warning in Victoria in January and most of us just slept through it, so we were definitely not prepared to deal with that kind of event,” she said.

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