In 2004, Premier Gordon Campbell unveiled a new strategy for the provincial tourism industry with the goal of doubling tourism revenues to $18 billion annually by 2015.
In late June of this year the B.C. Council of Tourism Associations (COTA) followed up with a report on how the tourism industry can become sustainable as revenues are increased, growing without impacting the resources and communities that make tourism possible.
The plan is called Foresight: Shaping a Sustainable Vision for Tourism in British Columbia. It was released on July 4 after a year and a half of study and consultation, and sets goals and milestones through 2020.
Like Whistler’s own Whistler2020 sustainability plan, the process started by looking at the ideal situation for 2020 in terms of tourism and social, economic and environmental sustainability, and then worked backwards to recognize the major decisions and milestones required to make that vision a reality.
The end goal is to create a high quality experience for visitors to the province, while ensuring the stability of the operating environment for the tourism industry — the “B.C. Uncorked” scenario. The scenario looks at the different factors that could impact tourism in the province, both positive and negative. It also looks at the internal factors that could impact tourism, such as hidden fees, high taxes, and environmental destruction of destinations, as well as possible outside factors like global flu pandemics and gas prices.
To achieve sustainability, COTA has made the following commitments:
• Provide the very best visitor experience in any operating environment, with high standards for safety and security.
• Ensure the relationship between tourism, governments and communities is that of shared responsibility and shared success.
• Implement policies and programs that address our stakeholder groups: operators, employees, governments, association, communities, suppliers, travelers, fellow resource users and the needs of the environment.
• Identify and consult with stakeholders in the development of policies, programs and practices.
• Ensure governance and reporting tactics are sound, transparent and accountable.
• Identify and take advantage of unique business opportunities.
• Build an international reputation for our natural beauty and conservation practices.
Foresight also includes a plan to achieve those goals:
• Engage in appropriate local, regional, national and international programs that effectively promote the advancement of sustainable tourism.
• Adopt policies and implement programs that address our social, cultural and environmental responsibilities.
• Raise awareness of our social, cultural, and environmental responsibilities among operators, staff, leadership, suppliers, travelers and the broader community.
• Present employees with equal access to training and development opportunities in order to ensure that all have the opportunity to build successful careers in tourism and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.
• Engage the regions and communities in which we work, live and operate in tourism sustainability; jointly develop long-term, strategic, community programs and initiatives, and tourism products that expand local cultural and health opportunities.
• Identify direct and indirect environmental issues and develop programs to address them, exceeding (as appropriate) basic compliance with all environmental legislation and regulation, and striving to continually improve our performance.
• Benchmark the industry against tourism and other business sectors from around the world.
• Initiate reporting and knowledge-sharing relationships.
• Ensure the quality of the visitor experience lives up to expectations created by our marketing.
• Openly report on our sustainable tourism programs.
Whistler is already far ahead, with the Resort Municipality of Whistler formally adopting The Natural Step framework for sustainability and developing Whistler2020 to apply the framework to all municipal functions. As well, Tourism Whistler is also an early adopter of The Natural Step in Whistler, and used it as a basis for the renovations to the conference centre and throughout the organization.
Whistler-Blackcomb also has an extensive sustainability program, and has taken steps to promote the year-round social, economic and environmental sustainability of mountain operations.
COTA represents various tourism associations and organizations that in turn represent more than 18,000 businesses in British Columbia.