Category Archives: ontario tourism

Can Ecotourism be Mainstream?

By Stacey Hunter, BC Hughes Tourism Consulting

When searching for vacation ideas, type in the word ‘Eco’ and see what Google yields. I, like most travellers had never really looked deep into what exactly “ecotourism” meant and always had my own perceptions. When staying at hotels I always reuse my towels and “recycle” the shampoo and soap containers by bringing them home with me. I had always just assumed that this is what ecotourism was and that I could call myself an eco-tourist.  When I read about resorts being eco-resorts, I always just assumed it meant you slept in the mud, used candlelight and ate organic. Little did I know mainstream ecotourism meant something much more.

After doing some research I found out that ecotourism is a type of travel that:

  • takes place in natural areas where people don’t usually visit,
  • has minimal impact to the area, and
  • builds awareness of the species and locals to that area.

In return your travel to an eco-destination financially assists in the protection of that destination.  By being an eco-tourist you must be ecologically and environmentally aware of the places you visit.

It all sounds prudish, and likely has you thinking “but I’d much rather my 4 star accommodation in Vegas”. Travelling ecotourism style doesn’t mean giving up luxury and pina colada’s by the pool.  There is a relatively new ecotourism philosophy taking hold in the mainstream tourism industry.  Take Misool Eco Resort in Indonesia for example.  Missool is a luxury dive resort that offers enriching experiences that benefit and sustain the landscape and community surrounding them.  Some examples of what Miscol Eco Resort does in order to be an Eco Resort:

  •  Hiring locals as staff
  • Assisting the community with sponsorships or donations
  • Using recycled material to construct the building(s)
  • Educating visitors about the land and species around the destination
  • Minimizing the consumption of fossil fuels the destination uses (for example using wind turbines and solar power)
  • Minimizing waste by composting, recycling, avoiding pesticides and asking guests to pack environmentally responsibly (for example avoiding packing plastic bags, bottles etc.)

Researching eco-tourism made me wonder why we still travel any other way?

Why not take an exciting vacation all while becoming enlightened about your destination and positively impacting the area you are visiting. If I can go on a trip that is not only enjoyable but is socially and environmentally responsible then why wouldn’t I?

You don’t have to take an eco-safari in Africa to become an eco-tourist. Many would be surprised to know even here in Ontario we have eco-resort opportunities.  Elk Lake Eco centre in Elk Lake enlightens guests within the magnificent Boreal Forest, while placing tremendous effort on serving local foods. Cedar Meadow Resort & Spa in Timmins offers a luxurious experience and wildlife tours right from the doorstep of their resort.   Northern Edge Algonquin offers retreats and adventures at their “oasis from this hyperconnected world”, a sustainable and environmentally sound resort.

If resort owners make the effort to make a difference, we at least owe it to them to given them the consideration when planning our next vacation.

Stacey Hunter is a tourism researcher with BC Hughes Tourism Consulting and has traveled to 16 countries around the world, with the goal to become enriched through experiencing local cultures.

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The Tourism Layer Cake – Who is the real Boss?

The management of tourism in this country is handled by a wide variety organizations, most have mandates as diverse as the products they sell and represent. If you are a tourism operator, navigating these organizations to figure out where to you should spend your money and your time could be as confusing as navigating an Ikea store on a Saturday.

Why is this? I have maintained throughout my career that the tourism industry is one of the most analyzed, studied, and layered industries there is. The ‘tourism funnel’ is full of organizations all with the best intentions in mind, but sometimes they miss the mark due structural complexity which ultimately creates confusion.

Take Ontario, Canada as an example. Tourism layers really stack up, and in some places even overlap:

  • Operator
  • Industry Specific Associations (ie. Private Campground Associations, Hotel and Motel Associations etc.)
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Convention & Visitor Bureaus /Business Improvement Associations
  • Local Tourist Associations
  • Municipalities
  • Counties
  • Regional Tourism Organizations (RTOs 1through13)
  • Provincial Industry Association (TIAO)
  • Province (Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation)
  • Province (Ministry of Tourism)
  • National Industry Association (TIAC)
  • National (Canadian Tourism Commission)

Looking at this structure, no wonder it seems daunting to your local business or attraction to determine where and how to become involved. Recently in Ontario, similar to British Columbia, the province has formed regional tourism organizations in order to try to make the system more efficient. The goal is to create resource rich, larger geographic organizations designed to have the clout to make a large impact in the marketplace. Will this replace some of the layers? In our opinion, likely not but in a reality of global competition, it will certainly ratchet up the marketing machine.

So why are there so many layers in tourism? Tourism is an industry that is very visible and can shape the ebb and flow of a community. A lot of the attractions and assets in tourism are publically owned or managed (i.e. parks, rivers, mountains, windy roads etc.) and this brings a lot of different groups to the table right off the bat. Then add in the businesses that make their living off of these assets, their associations, supporting attractions and very quickly the layers begin to form.

Local governments like to get into the action for purely economic development reasons. A healthy tourism industry means higher assessments and more money into the local system. Chambers of Commerce get involved almost by default. When a high portion of their members are tourism based, it very quickly shapes how the chamber rolls out its marketing and promotional plans. Local tourism associations sprout up when there is a weaker municipal tourism effort and the industry has to take on the task. As the geography broadens, sometimes representatives of more local organizations join together to form collectives that enable them to raise capital and reach further markets. Provincial governments are in the game for reasons similar to local governments – simply because tourism is big business and has the potential to generate significant tax revenues. Ironically the operators are in the game to deliver a high quality experience and to make money. Should the industry be at the top of the structure of the bottom? That is debatable but one thing everyone needs to remember is that all of the layers represent the industry, the very delivery agents of the products and services.

There is a shift in Ontario to remix the layers to see if it creates a more focused financially viable approach to tourism marketing. Will it solve all of the issues? Likely not, but one thing that is clear is that we need to continually talk about and work on ways to refine the system in the best interests of the visitor, local communities, government, and the real tourism ‘Cake Boss’, the operator.

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