By Alison Taylor
Can Whistler, a place whose very lifeblood relies on tourists who travel from near and far burning fossil fuels along the way, move towards ecotourism?
“Whistler is not a centre of ecotourism and by nature of its size and being a destination ski area, it is mainstream winter tourism,” said Arthur DeJong, environmental resource manager at Whistler-Blackcomb. “But there are lots of opportunities to hybrid ecotourism experiences into the Whistler experience.”
It’s a trend that is becoming more and more vital to the global tourism industry, which is expected to double in less than 15 years.
DeJong recently returned from Oslo, where he spoke at the Global Ecotourism Conference, which had representation from 73 countries around the world.
The urgency of becoming more sustainable is very much on the minds of the attendees as they grapple with what ecotourism means.
“We’re still trying to become clear on what it is and what it’s not and it’s not meant to be an elitist framework but rather an inspiration for all tourism to move towards more sustainable operations,” said DeJong. “So there will be hybrids.
“If ecotourism can help improve tourism overall then it’s fulfilling a meaningful role.”
Whistler-Blackcomb is doing its part as it develops a new tour that will teach visitors and residents about the impacts of climate change in alpine areas. The tours are expected to begin in July.
“The main focus of that tour is to educate people about climate change and alpine ecosystems thereby playing an advocacy role in inspiring people to make change,” said DeJong.
“For us it’s provocative because we are living on landforms that are clearly changing and shaping the land so it refutes any doubt about climate change.”
It meets the fundamental principles of ecotourism — employing local guides, promoting conservation, a high level of educational value and, it is hoped to be, economically viable.
DeJong believes there are more opportunities for ecotourism in Whistler, particularly in the backcountry, or the “outer ring” of the resort.
“If we offer more ecotourism experiences around this outer ring, it does more to promote conservation in these areas that are largely wilderness and it also makes us more attractive, I believe, as a resort because our menu of offerings to our guests can be greatly enriched through more ecotourism experiences, and it’s tourism’s way of promoting sustainability,” he said.
“We’re not an ecotourism operator but why would we not embrace every element we can to help us become more sustainable and be more attractive to the tourism market?”