As our world grows more accessible with the rise of technology, apps like Instagram have brought about a collective and seemingly insatiable global wanderlust. Tourism helps to satisfy that. Traversing lands, rivers, languages, and cultures fills the need for new experiences, and bridges the gaps between people and their lived experiences, ultimately connecting us to one another.
On the world stage, tourism is proving to be a key industry. It comprises up to 10% of the globe’s GDP and employing every 1 in 10 people internationally (1). Overall, tourism boasts immense economic, social, and environmental value. On World Tourism Day, we emphasize its importance in the international community, and the role it plays in celebrating our diverse lands and cultures in a sustainable, responsible manner.
According to Ecotourism.org, ecotourism is any activity “directed towards natural, often threatened environments to support conservation effort and sustainable tourism development” (2). A significant subsector of the tourism industry, it has proven success in fostering both environmental and economic benefits alike.
Many places have embraced ecotourism, leveraging it to preserve their unique ecosystems. Visitors spending tourism dollars to view rainbow-bright feathers, lush vines, and sparkling waters in Costa Rica has helped to conserve the rainforests they are coming to see. Mexico’s Baja Peninsula delights visitors with whale sharks, manta rays, and coral reefs - but had Mexican’s not embraced ecotourism, the reefs would not be in a place to sustain such magnificent biodiversity. Hotspots like Costa Rica (3) and the Baja (4) are impressive examples a focused ecotourism strategy that protects lands, waters, and wildlife - all while benefiting local communities.
In Canada, our abundance of natural resources quickly led to a reliance on an extraction-dependent economy. Those same resources, however, are also the basis of our beautiful landscapes and provide habitat for our remarkable wildlife. Ecotourism is a proven model that helps to generate sustainable development, and should be embraced as a means to diversify our economy. When used as a tool for conservation, ecotourism empowers communities by providing alternative sources of revenue that help to preserve the ecological value of the land and wildlife.
Ecotourism is slowly transforming our relationship with the natural world by illustrating the benefits of a non-consumptive economies. Businesses are beginning to see a clear link between environmental stewardship and economic gain, and with this, conservation values are beginning to embed themselves in our culture.
Furthermore, ecotourism experiences are important for their role in inspiring compassion and care for the flora and fauna visitors interact with. With the tourism industry projected to grow an average of 3% per year until 2030 according to the UN (5), ecotourism is an important economic strategy for Canada.
Here in British Columbia, bear viewing has proven to be an ecotourism offering in high demand. Commercial bear viewing successfully generates $7.3 million of Canada’s overall GDP, and is estimated to employ 510 persons per year according to a study by the Centre for Responsible Travel (6). In 2012, the Centre’s survey recorded over 11,000 visitors to the Great Bear Rainforest region of BC, Canada (7) - a significant feat, as it’s not an easy part of the world to access.
For us Canadians, expansive landscapes, fascinating wildlife, and diverse cultural heritages are integral to our identity. Ecotourism is an opportunity to share these gifts in a holistic and sustainable way. It blends economic, environmental, social, and cultural value, and provides an optimistic future that balances ecological preservation and economic growth. Now, it is up to us to embark on the journey to that future.
Happy World Tourism Day!
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The impact of forest fires and climate change on our great bear.