Driving through a remote part of New South Wales a number of years ago, I was thoroughly enjoying the sights of the countryside until I saw a Subway fast food restaurant in the most random place. Similarly, while travelling through Swaziland, I was gobsmacked that in the centre of a small town called Piggs Peak…with its dirt roads, tiny fruit stands, ramshackle homes, and stray animals…there stood (out) the nicest KFC I’ve ever seen. My jaw dropped for all the wrong reasons.
This is not a shot at those fast food outlets in particular, but an acknowledgement of how easily an authentic visitor experience can be ruined by something that simply doesn’t fit.
Contrast that experience with one that I had earlier this week when I had the good fortune to explore the pristine Cariboo Mountains near Valemount as part of a fam trip with Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH). It was the first time I had ever been rock climbing and hiking to an area only accessible to most by helicopter. There are no roads, logging, mining, or other blatant intrusions into the Cariboos backcountry to spoil the topography. More importantly, both the chopper, as well as CMH guests and guides leave an extremely light footprint to mitigate any impact on the landscape. In fact, the company works diligently and deliberately on sustainability initiatives to enhance biodiversity.
As for the trip, there are simply not enough words to describe how amazing it was. Seeing and learning about the magnificent glaciers, various mountain peaks, different species and vegetation, early explorers and habitants, history of the Cariboos Mountain Lodge, and more was not only good for the mind but also the soul.
I did some things I never thought I would do (e.g. via ferrata beside a deep canyon with a raging waterfall soaking me as I ascended the cliff) but thousands of others before me have done thanks to the incredible and professional CMH team.
The entire experience was transformational mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually at a time when it was most needed. The added bonus was that I also made some new friends from CMH, its parent company Alterra, and with tourism professionals from TOTA and elsewhere.
The iconic experiences that BC offers are second to none, especially when it comes to guided wilderness tours. It’s exactly why we need the tourism sector and companies like CMH to be stable and lead the charge in sustainability efforts, reconciliation, education, product development, and in generating demand for our province for the foreseeable future.
At the same time, CMH needs help from TIABC and our Adventure Tourism Coalition sector partners to push for legislative and regulatory changes vis-a-vis land use and tenure security, taxation, access, emergency management, and many other policies that I’ve been harping about that would allow our industry to excel, prosper and contribute to the greater good.
Unfortunately, the advocacy journey so far has been like a long, steep hike minus the reward of reaching the top of the peak and experiencing the majestic views of the valley below. But onward we go hoping to realize our goals.
While hiking in the Cariboos, never once did I miss any of the modern conveniences I enjoy at home or when travelling to various destinations. Instead, all of my senses absorbed the spectacular surroundings as I paused several times each day to recognize how grateful I am for the privilege of working in the tourism industry and calling British Columbia my home.
One day when my grandchildren have the opportunity to join CMH or any other operator for an authentic BC experience, I hope they never come across a fast food outlet or anything similar where it’s not supposed to be, especially in the back country.
Added note: – TIABC empathizes with the thousands of BC tourism operators who are seriously hurting following devastating wildfires in parts of the province. To that end, we are working with and supporting the collective efforts of our colleagues at TOTA, BCHA, BCRTS, BCDMOA, ATC and other sector associations and stakeholders in appealing to senior levels of government for immediate and long-term support to ensure businesses survive and rebound.