Island residents will deepen their social, environmental, and cultural connections by vacationing close to home.
Vancouver Island is both a world-class tourism destination and desirable place to work, live, and play. Its 30,000 sq. km boast snow-covered mountains, Canada’s tallest waterfall (Della Falls), 3,440 km of coastline, excellent salmon fishing, pristine beaches, ancient rainforests, prime agricultural lands, and the mildest climate in Canada. Islanders are known for their active participation in recreational pursuits, yet how many residents consider their leisure activities to be supporting the tourism sector, and how many tourism businesses see residents as tourists? And does it matter?
On a national, provincial, and regional scale, it does. In 2012, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recognized the value of domestic tourism as being a complementary market to international tourism.
Although a specific definition for local tourism does not exist, phrases like staycation, close-in markets, and exploring your own backyard are used to describe it. A generally accepted definition of tourism is “People traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for leisure, business, or other purposes.” (UNWTO, 2012)
Domestic tourists often travel in the shoulder season, therefore contributing to longer seasons, greater revenue generation, high volume, and strong repeat visitation. Local tourism allows people of modest income to enjoy rest and holidays, thus easing the social pressures of the working class and working class poor. With the belief that all people should be able to enjoy the benefits of rest, discovering new things, meeting others, and having new experiences, domestic tourism provides accessibility due to price and proximity of product. As people of diverse incomes travel locally, the demand for a more diverse offering of tourism products and services rises, further encouraging development of various scope and scale. This could translate into more opportunities for tourism entrepreneurs.
As a community accessible by water and air only, travel to and from Vancouver Island is costly, time consuming, and stressful for many of the approximately 783,000 residents; however, with a length of 460km and a width of 100km, travel times and distances on the island are relatively short, and in turn, more accessible. Participation in local tourism provides a unique opportunity to experience many of the same benefits as travelling far away. Residents can become more aware of local politics, ecosystems, flora and fauna, conservation efforts, arts and culture, parks and protected areas, and the interests and concerns of their neighbours.
The economic benefits of participating in local tourism can be identified from a personal perspective and a broader community perspective. Cost reduction by staying on the island means that the money spent getting off the island stays in the community, and in the hands of local tourism providers and the organizations that fund and support green spaces and tourism infrastructure. Local tourism participation helps to keep people in the tourism industry employed year-round, encourages local business development, and keeps the cycle of spending here on the island. And because island residents are more likely to travel in non-peak times, such as mid-week and shoulder seasons, tourist numbers are more evenly distributed. Taxes paid by tourism operators contribute to municipal and regional infrastructure, which are enjoyed by residents and tourists alike. Tourism leaders are often at the forefront of preservation and protection efforts for the natural environment on and around the island, as many depend on the wildlife, lakes, rivers, oceans, forests, and historical heritage for their sustained livelihoods.
Community recreation sites are where residents and tourists connect. The Rotary Seawalk in Campbell River, the Multi Use Path in Tofino, and the Royston Seaside Trail are examples of pathways that provide a link between locals and tourists. Tourists want to connect with and learn from community members, and as more residents explore the island, share their knowledge and stories, and connect with other Islanders, they gain a deeper appreciation for the challenges and opportunities we share. They become champions of their own communities and the larger Vancouver Island community as a whole. It’s a win-win.
By encouraging local residents to participate in tourism opportunities, the industry creates champions and ambassadors for all that Vancouver Island has to offer, further stretching tourism development and marketing dollars as friends and family visit island residents. This positive cycle also helps to create meaningful employment for residents, keeps discretionary dollars in the local economy, and results in more frequent and often off-season expenditures.
Innovation and sustainability are about simplicity, affordability, and accessibility, and local Vancouver Island tourism fits within all three of those descriptors. As residents learn about the strengths and challenges of neighbouring island communities, a deeper appreciation of their unique qualities and residents’ resiliency will naturally follow. As stated in the literature, domestic tourism can be “an excellent crisis-shock absorber” (Pierret, 2011, p. 3). As Canadians and the rest of the world move through an unprecedented global economic shift, local Vancouver Island tourism—with its plethora and diversity of activities, products, and opportunities—is well situated to sustain itself.
From a local tourism perspective, the activities available to Vancouver Island residents are unmatched by off-island locations, putting the industry in a very advantageous situation—residents of these markets already have pride in the places and spaces, want to be a part of the island community and to contribute to its economic, social, and environmental sustainability. When one lives in a world-class tourism destination, the choices are almost limitless. Research demonstrates that those who choose to take advantage of the plethora of opportunities available in their own backyard will share those experiences with their loved ones. The more the tourism industry designs and promotes experiences for Islanders, and the more they participate in them, the richer their social, economic, environmental, and cultural lives will be.