Sustainable tourism begins at home

This text is taken from one of the documents I read in my undergraduate degree in recreation and tourism management at Malaspina University College (now Vancouver Island University) between 1998 and 2002. And while I don’t have the entire document anymore (I would cite it correctly if I knew the source. I even tried Google Scholar, but couldn’t find the exact article so if you recognize it, please let me know.), I thought enough about it at the time to highlight this passage, and later took a photo to capture the words. And now, here we are, in the midst of a global pandemic that has all but halted international travel, and we’re looking again (still?) at how we manage local and domestic tourists within destinations.

Sustainable tourism development and more simply, sustainable development, is not a new concept. Many practitioners and scholars around the world have been studying and advocating for a more balanced approach to how and where and why we develop infrastructure for visitors and travellers. As tourism operators and marketing agencies pivot to attract domestic travellers, we are still faced with the often-times staggering negative impacts on our natural and built environments. I am a traveller. I love to visit new places, explore like a local (I think most of us say this), and experience parks and trails and restaurants and distilleries and spas and lakes and rivers and campgrounds…the list goes on. So am I part of the problem? Or am I part of the solution? Or can I be both?

Certainly, choosing to spend your time and money in ways that respect the living creatures who reside there first and foremost is a start. But what about the carrying capacity of a place? Even if everyone who uses a trail is ‘responsible’, there is still a tipping point to how many responsible people translates into too many people on the trails at a given time – for animal health, for soil erosion, for overcrowding, for hygiene facilities, and much more. And who then manages those people? Campaigns that arose in response to COVID-19 in our communities offered some direction.

Indigenous Tourism BC (ITBC) has been promoting How to Travel Responsibly over the past several months, and I sincerely appreciate and try to listen to that advice. Destination BC, the marketing agency for the province also published its 10 Ways to Travel Safely and Responsibly in BC this Summer in June of 2020, and most of what is written rings true for me during most travel experiences, pandemic or not. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Sustainable 2030 plan offer guidance and insight into what we can all be doing, every day, in every action, to support healthier, diverse, and robust ecosystems that are to the benefit of all of humanity and sweet Mother Earth.

Before my 20th birthday, I was learning about Our Common Future also known as The Brundtland Report (thank you Rick Rollins!) and the efforts of so many to put environmental sustainability at the forefront of development. I turn 43 years young this month. Almost 23 years after first learning about sustainable development, here I am. Keeping the conversation going where I can. Taking action where I can. Trying to be a responsible traveller. Trying to stay connected to the elements that fill my lungs with fresh salty air. We all need to keep trying. Sustainable tourism development depends on all of us as tourists and as hosts to make conscious and informed choices about how, when, where, and why we travel and how we influence others to participate in our experiences.

#IlovewhereIlive #whatsyourleisure #VancouverIsland