A Ucluelet kayaking company is raising the bar for environmental stewardship and paddling hard towards regenerative tourism.
Hello Nature Adventure Tours was recently announced as one of three finalists in the Experiential Tourism category of the Synergy Foundation’s EcoStar Awards.
“Since 2015, the Ecostar Awards have recognized outstanding environmental achievements and leadership on Vancouver Island,” the awards’ website reads. “The awards are presented to Vancouver Island-based businesses, non-profits, academia, governments and individuals who have demonstrated exceptional environmental and social initiatives.”
The nomination joins an already long list of environmental accolades for Hello Nature, which was launched by Kevin Bradshaw in 2018.
“We started Hello Nature to kind of make a change in the industry on how companies operated, with sustainability and regenerative tourism in mind,” Bradshaw told the Westerly News.
Bradshaw has been kayak guiding in Ucluelet for over 20 years and aimed to create his business with a keen eye on environmental and cultural respect.
“Obviously kayaking starts off a little bit more environmentally friendly than other businesses, but we wanted to analyze our business in a leave-no-trace ethic and also integrate ancient cultural traditions from the Tseshaht and teachings we learn from them to make our company not just sustainable but regenerative, meaning that it’s giving back to the ecosystem that is so important to our job,” he said.
He added that the majority of Hello Nature’s tours are focused on the traditional territory of the Tseshaht First Nation in the Broken Group Islands.
“All of our guides are cultural representatives trained by the Tseshaht, so we’re able to pass on that story. One of the biggest things that we really want to emphasize while we’re out there is that you can come out here, be in the beauty, connect to the wild, check out nature and disconnect, but you really don’t connect with the islands unless you’re learning the whole history of the islands and the cultural history of the islands,” he said.
He noted Hello Nature has ticked a myriad of boxes in pursuit of environmental stewardship and regenerative practices, including BC Green Business certification, BC Ocean Friendly Business through Surfrider, and Biosphere certification.
“We started looking at every aspect of our business in a regenerative way,” he said.
Bradshaw took the kayak credo of leaving no trace behind a step further when he transformed Hello Nature’s day trips into beach cleans with guests removing debris from the Broken Group Islands everyday.
Those cleanups cleared over 300 kilograms of garbage from the Broken Group this season.
“The nice problem that we did have with our day trips by the end of the season is we were actually hitting beaches and unable to do beach cleanups because we’d cleaned it,” Bradshaw said. “That’s a great problem. We want that problem.”
The collected debris is sorted, analyzed, recorded and then recycled whenever possible.
Bradshaw suggested Hello Nature’s clients are happy to help clean the surroundings they’ve come to enjoy.
“They’re actually very excited about it,” he said. “We find that our guests are attracted to our day trip because it has a regenerative aspect to it. We’ve never met any opposition from our guests, they’ve always been very keen to jump in there and give back.”
He added that Hello Nature plants a tree for every guest who signs up for a harbour tour and said over 500 trees were planted this year with a goal of 2,000 next year.
The trees are planted across the province through a partnership with the Blue Green Planet Project.
He said Hello Nature also donates 1 per cent of its revenue from multi-day trips to the Redd Fish Restoration Society.
Bradshaw has been particularly inspired by Redd Fish’s kelp restoration efforts.
“Kelp has bounced back so fast and quickly, which creates such an amazing ecosystem for us to enjoy. I can’t do my job without a healthy ecosystem. We have to do what we can to promote and build that healthy system and support it,” he said.
He suggested organizations like Redd Fish are helping the coast heal.
“When you’re paddling on the Broken Group Islands or anywhere on the West Coast, over the 20 years I’ve been guiding, you can see damage in the ecosystem, but you can also see healing in the ecosystem due to certain projects that are being put in place,” he said.
“That shows that if we can all put a little bit of effort into regenerative tourism, we can probably make a really big improvement.”
He believes growing environmental awareness is pointing tourists towards environmentally friendly and regenerative opportunities as they seek value in their trips by meaningfully contributing to the communities they visit.
“For other businesses that are looking to get into it, it’s not massive moves and costs that have to be put into place. There’s very small details that can make big changes in every organization,” he said. “If you are a business that’s interested in it, you may not get all the top marks right away, but just starting is the main goal and then every year you can just add more and more and more until you reach that top mark.”
He said he’s “definitely starting to see a swing in the right direction,” adding that destination marketing organizations like Tourism Ucluelet and Tourism Tofino are driving towards positive changes.
“They’re all really working towards this and trying to see how we can better support businesses, find what hurdles there are and how we can eliminate those hurdles and make it easier for businesses to become sustainable,” he said. “I think once those systems get into place then a lot more businesses will jump on board…That’s where tourism has to get to.”
He added that Hello Nature’s team of about 10 employees take a family approach to their work and have all bought into Hello Nature’s principles and approach.
“They obviously are very passionate about the ecosystem too, so it’s about getting them to bite into the programs and making sure they believe in what we’re doing and helping to promote that,” he said.
He encourages other businesses to get involved with regenerative tourism by reaching out to organizations like the Synergy Foundation and BC Green Business.
“They can help guide you to build a sustainable plan. You don’t have to do everything at once and try to go for Biosphere Certification like we did, but I definitely challenge other businesses to look into it and hopefully help create a healthier ecosystem and a more regenerative system,” he said.
“I think the biggest hurdle is that people get overwhelmed by the vastness of the topic. Realistically, you’ve just got to get in and do one step at a time…There’s definitely low hanging fruit that you can do to get your foot in the door and then work towards the harder projects later on.”
The EcoStar award winners will be announced at a gala being held on Nov. 9.
“This recognition motivates us to continue pushing the boundaries of sustainable and immersive tourism offerings. We are excited to embark on new adventures, create lasting memories, and inspire a profound appreciation for the beauty and importance of nature,” read a social media post from Hello Nature reacting to the nomination.
“As we eagerly anticipate the results of the Experiential Tourism Award, we extend our heartfelt appreciation to our incredible team, partners, and, most importantly, our customers. It is through their support that Hello Nature Adventure Tours has become a finalist for this prestigious accolade. Join us as we celebrate the wonders of nature and embark on unforgettable adventures that will leave a lasting impact on both our guests and the environment.”
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