It’s Time for Responsible Tourism in Tofino


Tofino, BC, is a special place, it is wild, it is beautiful and it holds a very special energy. Anyone arriving on this peninsular will be moved by it’s intense coastline, it’s pristine beaches and mountainous backdrop.

With a population of 1800 year round, it’s quite the small town and as such the ecological footprint of such a small population would be fairly gentle on the land and it’s resources.

But how do the local residents pay their bills and afford to eat?

In a 2006 census report, accommodation and food services was the top industry, based on labour force, followed by Construction, then Retail, making up a total of 44.5% of Tofino workforce. The rest of the workforce is split amongst 11 other categories, including arts, public services, transport, cultural activities, information, real estate, education, professional services, public admin, healthcare and finance.

These figures clearly show that tourism is the top provider for work in Tofino.

Without Tourism, Tofino would either likely not exist, or would be a small quaint fishing village of about 115 people.

With the climate on a runaway course for destruction, the question we need to be asking is, “Is this sustainable?”

Capitalism is the biggest cause of climate change, with tourism a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) explains that if Tourism was counted as a country in the Greenhouse gas emissions standings, it would be the 5th biggest polluter.

So, for a town such as Tofino, that seems to pride itself on the beauty of the nature it provides, are we doing nature an injustice by inviting 20,000 people here a day during the summer months?

Is the livelihood of 1800 people worth the trade off of destruction that Tofino Tourism is contributing to?

Tofino is not a town you pass through and as such the minimum 412 km round trip from the nearest ferry terminal is a must.

According to the British Columbia Sustainable Energy Association each litre of gas produces 2.5kg’s of CO2. If a car does 25 mpg (9 km per litre), then just one vehicle’s round trip from Nanaimo (the nearest ferry terminal) will produce 114.25 kg’s of CO2.

It’s fair to say, that many visitors come on a bus, or as a family of 2 or 4 and as such will reduce the overall emissions. For the sake of this calculation, let’s say we average it out at 3 persons per vehicle. With 20,000 beds available for tourists (edit: I am awaiting confirmation of these numbers), using an average of a 5 night stay throughout the 4 months of summer June – September, we can calculate that it would take 6666 cars making 24.4 trips (one every 5 days) each containing 3 people.

That would mean 162,650 round trips through the summer. This calculates to be 18,582,762 kg’s of CO2.

That’s 18,500 tonnes of CO2. And that’s just the cars. We haven’t even talked about the ferry or the flights.

So what does this mean for the environmentally conscious Tofitian that has escaped the madness of the consumerist city lifestyle to work a low paid job in an attempt to be as environmentally conscious as possible?

Well, from looking at it from a numbers perspective, there’s a chance that living in Tofino and being a part of this system, you are indirectly to blame for at least 18,500 tonnes of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere for only 4 months each year, from just the return trip from Nanaimo alone. This is the equivalent to the average household CO2 output emissions of 3700 british columbians per year.

The UNEP, that I referred to above states:
Behavioural changes (tourists) as well as structural change (tourism industry) is therefore of great importance in reversing the trend of growing greenhouse gas emissions in tourism.

So the question is, what is the Tofino Tourism industry doing about the destruction and pollution that it is causing?

Are we, as a town:

  • promoting sustainable activities, such as cycling whilst in Tofino, leaving the car at the hotel?
  • looking to provide local food options to reduce the emissions produced by shipping in so much food to feed these visitors?
  • expressing the importance of our environment, so that our visitors conduct themselves according to laws of nature and that they leave inspired to make change in their towns?
  • promoting the ancient yet very important cultures of our First Nations?
  • promoting renewable energies, composting and the use of non-chemical products?

What are we, as a town, doing to offset our incredible contribution to the decline in the health of our planet?

We can’t leave these questions unanswered.

We can’t expect to continue along this path with our heads buried in the sands. We can’t wait for someone else to make a decision to change things for the better. We need to take control of our town and it’s destiny and how we convey ourselves on the world stage.

Tofino has become a “brand”, and just like I choose what brands I support based on their ethical values and the way they conduct business, I need to know that I can back this brand.

If we can’t be seen to be taking care of our own environment then how can we expect our departing visitors to do the same.

Here in Tofino, we have an opportunity to spread amazing ideas, sustainable initiatives and the power of community across the globe.

Let’s make each kg of CO2 worth it, or we might have to pack in this whole idea of Tourism.

If Tofino can be responsible for changing the lives of people as they leave, imprinting the importance of reducing their footprint on the planets delicate ecological systems, and they go about spreading change that makes a global reduction in greenhouse gasses, then Tofino has done it’s job.

If this is not the case, then we need to discuss, how we can make it so.

I would love for this page to be used as a posting board for ideas on how we can improve upon the current model of tourism in Tofino – Thank you.

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