Sustainable Tourism

As I write this month’s column, I am in Richmond for the 2022 BC Tourism and Hospitality Conference. It has been amazing to be back in-person with colleagues from the Kootenays and across the province. The theme of the conference was ‘Kickstarting the Comeback,’ and there was a lot of thoughtfulness and optimism as the BC visitor economy looks to the future beyond recovery from the pandemic. While many aspects of the industry were discussed this week, the hot topic was undoubtedly how to ensure tourism remains sustainable – specifically in terms of destination management and land stewardship. 

A panel on the ‘State of Transportation and the Way Forward to Support BC’s Visitor Economy’ discussed at length the need to transition to more sustainable fuel sources for the province’s air, road, and marine transportation networks. Representatives from Destination BC discussed their ongoing work around Destination Management to ensure that the impacts of tourism are minimized and managed for the benefit of all British Columbians – including Indigenous people. 

Here in Fernie and the broader Kootenay region, there is a ton of work already underway to ensure that the economic benefits of tourism are around for generations to come. This means ensuring social license with local residents and our First Nations by being proactive as an industry in managing the environmental impacts of visitors flocking to our beautiful natural spaces. I was recently elected to the board of directors for Kootenay Rockies Tourism, and I’m so proud that through their work the Kootenay Rockies region recently became the first sustainable tourism destination in Canada to be certified by GreenStep Sustainable Tourism. 

Of course, here in town we have the Fernie Tourism Master Plan that was formally adopted in late 2020. One of the four focus areas of that plan is Sustainable Management which incorporates important aspects like managing capacity limits and reducing impacts on the natural environment. There are multiple projects already underway in this area including a collaborative effort led by Tourism Fernie to improve put-in and take-out infrastructure along the Elk Valley to manage impacts to this critical waterway. The Fernie Chamber and Tourism Fernie also recently supported the successful lobbying efforts of local resident Sylvia Ayers to have the City of Fernie council prioritize the adoption of a plastic bag ban to further protect the local environment. This is a great example of how businesses can be part of a green solution without dramatic increases in costs.

There is certainly much more work to do to carefully balance the preservation of our environment while offering a world-class destination for visitors that maximizes benefits for local residents. And it is imperative that we get this right as a business community and tourism industry so that we don’t end up killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

Brad Parsell Photo