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Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks, on Vancouver Island, invites visitors to book a guided walk with a member of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation to learn about land stewardship.Courtesy Destination BC

Imagine heading to bed after a long day outdoors, horseback riding, fishing or backcountry hiking. You’re staying in a tent – but this is not your usual camping trip. Your canvas tent has a skylight so you can gaze at the stars from your king-size bed, a hot tub sits just outside for optimal relaxation and, if it’s a chilly night, there’s a glass-fronted fireplace to keep things cozy. You’re at Siwash Lake Wilderness Resort, an off-grid five-star eco-resort located on a private, 300-acre estate in B.C.’s cowboy country.

Even better, you can enjoy all this luxury knowing you’re not disrupting your surroundings. The tent is set on a raised wooden platform to reduce environmental impact. The hot tub is wood-fired. And each structure is built according to traditional frontier and Indigenous designs, so they exist in harmony with the regenerating forest that surrounds the camp.

This sustainable approach to tourism informs Siwash’s entire property, which also includes a main ranch house and private suite in a log barn. Even during peak season, the all-inclusive wilderness resort produces only one bag of garbage per week – and sometimes less. It runs on solar power, uses only biodegradable cleaning products and heats buildings using wood-burning furnaces. The property describes its recycling system as “robust” and has a similarly extensive composting system – though its chickens and dogs help ensure there’s little to no food waste. It has even been certified Platinum by GreenStep Sustainable Tourism, which assesses tourism companies’ sustainability through extensive audits.

Far from simply being business decisions, these environmentally conscious policies are actually part of the draw for tourists, who are more interested than ever in trips that minimize negative impacts on a destination’s environment, culture and local economy. And increasingly, resorts, transit operators and hotels are stepping up to ensure guests have an incredible travel experience while achieving those sustainability goals.

Travellers are prioritizing meaningful travel experiences that leave a positive impact on the places they visit.

Maya Lange, vice president, global marketing at Destination BC

According to a June 2022 survey by international research group YouGov, “53 per cent of global consumers say they will look for sustainable travel options while travelling, rising to 72 per cent among people looking to travel within the next 12 months.” And, an April 2022 survey of 11,000 travellers from around the world by Expedia Media Group found a staggering 90 per cent of consumers are looking for sustainable options when travelling.

“Travellers are prioritizing meaningful travel experiences that leave a positive impact on the places they visit,” says Maya Lange, vice president, global marketing at Destination BC, which aims to develop and grow British Columbia’s tourism industry.

However, a more sustainable, regenerative approach to tourism is not a new concept. “Indigenous Peoples have been stewards of the lands and water since time immemorial and have been using sustainable practices over time to protect them,” Lange says. “That is something we can all learn from.”

Siwash Lake, which is majority Indigenous-owned, is just one example of Indigenous practices informing tourism operations. The Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks, which are located on Vancouver Island, is another. These parks are under the care and stewardship of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, who “practice modern park management based on traditional teachings and relational practices within ecosystems,” Lange explains.

The Nation’s goal is to provide guests with a chance to experience its culture and traditional territory in a low-impact way. So, in addition to ziplining, fishing, paddling and bear-watching, visitors can book guided walks where a member of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation provides insight into the cultural significance of the plants, animals and medicines that can be found in the old-growth forests on Wah-nah-jus Hilth-hoo-is (Meares Island).

Non-Indigenous tourism businesses are prioritizing sustainability, too. In B.C., seaplane company Harbour Air recently operated a test flight of its first ePlane, the most recent step in its journey to become the world’s first all-electric commercial airline. And Inn at Laurel Point, a 200-room Vancouver Island hotel, became the province’s first carbon neutral hotel in 2010.

The inn’s guests can charge their electric vehicles at one of several charging stations and enjoy meals made with fruits and vegetables plucked from the hotel’s on-site gardens. The property uses a marine cooling system, which means it controls the temperature inside by pumping seawater through the building via 114 heat pumps. It also diverts 77 per cent of its waste from landfills, installed honey bee hives and introduced composting and better waste-sorting policies.

And since there are still only two certified carbon-neutral hotels in B.C. (the other is the nearby Parkside Hotel and Spa), this is a particularly good option for people who are trying to prioritize sustainability in all aspects of their lives.

Elsewhere in the country, travellers will be able to find hotels, tourist destinations and transportation companies making similar investments in sustainability. In Ontario, Algonquin Eco Lodge is an off-grid property that uses a nearby waterfall to generate electricity, while Ottawa’s Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. became the country’s first Canadian brewery to achieve B corp status in 2013 for its social and environmental policies.

Fogo Island Inn in Newfoundland and Labrador uses filtered rainwater in its toilets and laundry systems, keeps lighting at the lowest possible levels and almost completely avoids the use of plastics (aside from its telecommunications equipment, for which there is no non-plastic alternative).

And Germain Hotels, which runs Le Germain and Alt properties across the country, provides all guests biodegradable bath products in refillable bottles, uses geothermal heating and cooling systems in 12 of its properties, and uses rainwater to water the green roofs at its Calgary and Saskatoon locations.

At Germain hotels, sustainability efforts run throughout the building, from geothermal heating and cooling systems to biodegradable toiletries and refillable bottles.Courtesy Germain Hotels

Some of these changes are more about infrastructure than direct guest experience, admits Marie Pier Germain, vice-president, sales and marketing at Germain Hotels. The key is to provide visitors with the same level of service and experience they’re used to, while meeting their ever-growing desires for sustainable updates.

“It’s something they expect,” she says. “They are telling us it’s important to them.”