Ideal lab: VIU graduate students study tourism on West Coast



What better lab for tourism  studies than the West Coast? 

That was the lesson for a  group of graduate students from Vancouver Island University’s Department of Recreation and Tourism and the VIU World Leisure Centre of Excellence. They were keen to discover the inner workings of tourism here, and they weren’t disappointed. 

“The whole purpose was to look at aspects and processes of change,” said instructor Suzanne de la Barre. 

“Generally, the highlights were talking to so many people who were enthusiastic and optimistic about changes occurring in Ucluelet and Tofino,” she said. 

 Of the 20 students and two faculty, a number of countries were represented, including China, India, South America, and Germany. And it is a small world, after all, they learned from Stephen Wearing, who talked in a presentation open to the public about the development of eco-trekking on the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea. 

Wearing is a visiting scholar at VIU. He presented to the group and the community on his work in community development on ecotourism in Papua New Guinea. 

“They’re working towards sustainable livelihoods for those communities,” he said. 

Wearing is fascinated with the shift from whaling to whalewatching on the West Coast. 

The price of land in the Tofino area will continue to be a problem for residents and for the next generation trying to buy back into the area.  The more second home and accommodations an area has, the more expensive the land gets, so the West Coast will be dealing with that issue in the near future, he said. 

 A shortage of accommodations for casual workers is another challenge for the area, he said, citing similar problems in Australia’s resort communities. 

The West Coast of Australia shares some characteristics with the Island’s West Coast, Wearing said. 

Mild weather, the popularity of tourism, even surfing – and the need to balance what residents would like in the future and what tourism needs in the future, Wearing said. 

When the population suddenly triples in the high tourism season, the locals there don’t like the traffic jams, but the tourist-serving businesses like the influx of money, he said. 

 Wearing said he was “very impressed” with the West Coast. 

“It’s a very scenic venue, and you’ve got that really small-town feeling about it, which I really like,” he said. “It’s a very pretty area.” 

The VIU group toured Ucluelet and Tofino, getting insights into regional tourism efforts. They had a panel discussion in Ucluelet with parks and rec director Abby Fortune, Whiskey Landing Lodge’s Cathy Whitcombe, Black Rock Oceanfront Resort’s Adelle Larkin and Sue Payne of the Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce. 

In Tofino they worked closely with Sarah Robinson and Mayor Josie Osborne 

They stayed at small boutique hotels, and they dined on small business fare, courtesy of Ecolodge and Solidarity Snacks. 

 â€œThey both provided us with a great meal,” de la Barre said, noting that an owner at the deli-bakery is a recent graduate of Vancouver Island University who set out to make small business work in a small town. 

“They wanted to go to a small company, to be entrepreneurial. Wanting to be somewhere and to make it work, I like that spirit – that’s something we look at in our course,” de la Barre said. 

There and at Tofino’s Ecolodge, the class found an impressive entrepreneurial spirit and a great deal of enthusiasm, de la Barre said.