For 2013, the Adventure Travel Trade Association estimated that the market for outgoing adventure travel from Europe and the Americas reached an estimated $263 billion. Canada is keen to tap into the enthusiasm for conservation and the financial possibilities that ecotourism has to offer. Second only to Russia in terms of physical size, Canada has vast areas of wilderness and rugged terrain that remains pristine thanks to the government’s efforts to protect it and the activities of ecotourists. Here’s a brief history of how ecotourism has taken root and evolved in Canada.
The Early Days of Ecotourism
The roots of ecotourism go back several centuries when Europeans sought out destinations with attractive landscapes as well as cultural and artistic experiences. For decades, scientists, explorers, and enlightened travelers made trips to study, observe, and preserve local species, cultures, and customs. However, it wasn’t until 1983 that Héctor Ceballos-Lascuráin came up with a label for this kind of travel. This environmentally enlightened architect from Mexico first coined the term ecotourism.
According to an article in The Smithsonian, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada explicitly stated how it defines ecotourism in 2007. In November of that year, the government unveiled plans to preserve and shield from development about 25 million acres in the Northwest Territories around an arm of Great Slaves Lake and near Ramparts River and Wetlands.
In the late 1990s, business leaders from several countries discussed ways to capitalize on a growing interest in ecotourism for Arctic regions. Finland and the state of Alaska founded the Sustainable Model of Arctic Regional Tourism, or SMART, in 2002. Eventually, Canada became a supporting partner of this organization.
The goal was to look for ways to leverage ecotourism to benefit indigenous people and their communities in the far north where social and economic challenges were common. Though the project has since ended, Canada and the other participants came away with guidelines for tourists who want an ecotourism experience in these regions.
Creating Ecotourism Attractions in Canada
During the 1990s and 2000s, Canada cultivated several ecotourism attractions. For example, a group of naturalists, conservationists, and government officials helped transform a community outside Yellowknife in the Northern Territories into an ecotourism destination. Visitors who want to experience life in this region spend their money to support the local economy and they are encouraged to avoid disturbing the environment.
Two private citizens established Clayoquot Wilderness Resort in the mid-90s. They set up a remote wilderness camping opportunity on the Bedwell River. This ecotourism destination in British Columbia is accessible exclusively by boat and float plane. In 2000, the MoCreebec indigenous people opened Eco Lodge on Moose Factory Island in Ontario. The lodge has a low impact on the surrounding subarctic environment. The community members took five years to plan and design this facility in ways that are consistent with the group’s cultural values.
Extending the Ecotourism Conversation
Even though the SMART project culminated in a set of ecotourism guidelines, many within Canada (and elsewhere) continued the conversation about the optimal way for travelers to engage in ecotourism. To that end, a new ecotourism magazine published its first issue in June, 2008. Entitled Ecotourism Magazine Canada, the inaugural issue gave a detailed report on best practices and showcased heroes of the ecotourism movement. Ecotourism pioneer Vern Telford of the Tourism Management Program at Georgian College was the driving force behind the publication.
The Future of Ecotourism in Canada
Ecotourism encourages travelers to make only a small carbon footprint while getting to their destination. For this reason, Canada markets itself to North American travelers who want to experience ecotourism without traveling on a fuel guzzling jet to remote islands in the Pacific.
As ecotourism evolves, advocates hope to learn from successful projects. The man who’s known as the father of ecotourism in Quebec, Jean Bedard, has made ecotourism profitable and sustainable. Since the early 1990s, Bedard and his academic colleagues have harvested duck feathers from Les Pelerins islands and sold them for use in luxury duvets. The proceeds allow them to make up the shortfalls they incur running ecotourism programs. This kind of ingenuity is likely to continue as ecotourism strengthens its foothold in Canada.