The Country Connection The Pinecone Forest Country Roads Maps Country Cabin Books
The Country Connection Magazine Story

Digital Sample Digital Subscription

AddThis Feed Button
AddThis Share Button

We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Magazine Fund for the creation of this website.

Is Ontario Ready for Green Travel?

by Dan Boileau

Green travel? Ecotourism?
Ask five people the meaning of these terms and you’ll likely get five different answers. Ask the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and you’ll either get silence or a statement like, “How can you call someone who’s flown here on a jumbo jet an ecotourist?” That’s what I got from Steve Bruno, a consultant who is the driving force behind the Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership (OTMP).

While the Ministry of Tourism knows of the green travel phenomenon, which many regions have embraced, it has yet to fully capitalise on the growing market. This may explain why the term ecotourism is basically absent from all travel-related literature made public by the Ministry. You won’t find it in any travel guides, advertisements, business plans or web sites. The OTMP is the closest that the Ministry comes to promoting green travel in the province, hidden under the banner of “adventure travel.”

Up until 1999, the Ontario government never really took tourism that seriously – at least not seriously enough to create a ministry with the sole responsibility for this unique portfolio. Up until 1999, tourism was lumped together with Economic Development and Trade. When Ontario Premier Mike Harris gave this portfolio to Minister of Tourism Cam Jackson, he told him to focus on job creation and economic growth. What this means is that the government will focus on the tried and true money-makers. Snowmobiling, hunting and fishing provide a nice cash cow for governments, so why explore new tourism products such as ecotourism? This would cost money and in a province that prides itself on tax cuts, there is little money for research - unless it comes from the private sector.

The recently formed Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership is an alliance between government, outfitters and corporate sponsors. The group promotes various aspects of travel throughout the province and one of its mandates is outdoor adventure. It is the closest the Ontario government has come to promoting green travel in Ontario.

The group is host to two major initiatives, which have been well promoted at trade shows, tourism publications and on the internet. Paddling Ontario and Arts in the Wild are two of the outdoor adventure products driven mostly by 30 outfitters spanning an area from James Bay to Algonquin Provincial Park. These outfitters have pooled their talents and dollars in an effort to attract a larger share of the soft adventure market.

While relatively new, OTMP appears to be having a positive impact on travel, according to Todd Lucier, general manager of Northern Edge Algonquin. “While there is still not a lot of marketing, there is now more co-operation among tourism suppliers,” says Lucier.

Tourism operators, some of whom have been around for several generations, are likely the best people to drive the green travel agenda in this province. With their experience, contact with tourists and a new partnership with government, they are our best chance of protecting existing sites, which may support ecotourism.

Lucier admits that while he is supportive of the initiative, there is still a gap on ecotourism principles. Because ecotravel is still in its infancy in many ways, we have yet to find a definition that works for everyone. Perhaps this is why the term ecotourism is largely avoided. The OTMP has come a long way in a short time towards developing a new travel product that appeals to a growing market segment. So why stop short of using the term ecotourism? Others have used it and turned it into profits. In Ontario, two colleges now offer post-diploma degrees in ecotourism management.

Humber College in Toronto and Sir Sanford Fleming College in Haliburton have clearly defined the ecotourism market and launched ecotourism management studies to meet the future needs of this fledgling industry. However, once students graduate from these studies, where will they work?

Some may head to British Columbia, where the ecotourism sector is really taking off. In that province, the Ministry of Tourism has embarked on several initiatives, including Greening Government, the Green Economy Development Fund, and Greening Communities, among others. Check out the web site at and you’ll see the term ecotourism splattered everywhere. Is it just a coincidence that the Green Party is at its strongest in the west?

As far back as 1994, the government of B.C. and Alberta sponsored a joint study devoted entirely to ecotourism. They saw the growth potential of this new industry and acted on it. British Columbia is now highly regarded by ecotourists from all over the world, despite issues with clear-cutting and resulting environmental damages. There is a clear example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Guy Lamarche, brand manager for Outdoor Adventure with the Northern Tourism Marketing Corporation, has 25 years of experience promoting tourism. He admits that for too long ecotourism has been shoved under the general theme of outdoor adventure and he would like to see this change. “I see major growth opportunities ahead as more and more people are looking for winter travel opportunities other than snow-mobiling,” he says. He adds that Ontario has one of the highest concentrations of polar bears in the north and that this “product” has been overlooked for a long time. Lamarche hopes to right some of the past wrongs by setting an ecotourism agenda, which is separate from outdoor adventure. “We have the inventory on the shelf,” he adds, “and it’s just a matter of getting the tourism operators to seize these opportunities.”

If these institutions, along with many others, have found a way to define the ecotourism market and capitalise on its potential, why has Ontario not moved in the same direction? We have no shortage of geography, suppliers of tours and accompanying infrastructure. Ontario already has a good reputation among nature travellers as one of the finest destinations in North America for relatively undisturbed wilderness.

Undisturbed natural environments are the primary ecotourism attractions in this province. Ontario Parks received 8.4 million visitors in 1993, which is a 62 percent increase from 1981. In Algonquin Provincial Park, quotas are needed to avoid overcrowding by more than 800,000 visits a year. More than a thousand people have showed up on a single evening for a wolf howl at Algonquin.

To compete in the international market and benefit from the world-wide boom in ecotourism, the province needs to develop a profile and a competitive product to market. However, the current government is strictly “business first,” so it needs to see the profits to be gained by promoting ecotourism. Yet, we continue to rely on old habits when it comes to marketing tourism.

Ontario continues to promote travel that is in many ways unsustainable to wilderness. Golf courses are a high priority, as seen with the recent scandals involving Ontario’s premier, Mike Harris. The Toronto Star exposed how friends of Harris managed to bypass shoreline protection regulations in order to build luxury homes and a golf course near sensitive walleye habitat. Golf may be enjoying a growing boom, but to exploit this activity at the expense of natural environments and wildlife is downright greedy and short-sighted.

Harris is also personally advocating improved hunting opportunities, including opening up provincial parks to annual wildlife slaughters. This is happening while park visitation is growing at an incredible rate.

Another consumptive use of wildlife is fishing. Fishing in many lakes across the province these days in now sustained by the fact that these lakes hold only farm-raised, stocked species, as natural stocks are unable to keep up to the angling pressure.

Promoting hunting and fishing without any promotion of sustainable green tourism opportunities jeopardises our wilderness resources by relying on activities that are harmful to potential future markets. It is also widely known that active participation in hunting is declining and that promoting this activity is like beating a dead horse. Government may be eager to form partnerships with the private sector, yet it seems that cabinet ministers are miles apart when it comes to synchronising their agendas and ultimate vision.

The Ministry of Tourism has ignored the fact that the number of hunters declined by 14 percent over the 1981-91 period, while the number of non-consumptive wildlife tourists increased by 8 percent. The number of American hunters coming to shoot Ontario wildlife is likely to dwindle even further, now that new Canadian firearms legislation requires Customs Canada to interview all persons toting guns across the border. Shouldn’t there be some concern among policy planners at the Ministries of Natural Resources, Tourism and Parks Ontario on these trends?

If trends dictate markets of the future, Ontario is on its way to missing the boat on the growing ecotourism market. For every Ontarian who goes hunting, three times as many people take wildlife viewing trips, generating twice the revenues of hunting.

Another trend which is being overlooked is the fact that world-wide ecotourism is expected to double in the next 10 to 15 years. Will we be ready for this new breed of tourists? What of our remaining natural environments? Will we have preserved enough green space to actually attract the green traveller?

According to the Wildlands League, many Ontario sites with high ecotourism potential are open for logging and mining. These practices can cause irreparable damage to forest ecosystems on which ecotourism is largely based. Once a forest is cut and wildlife habitats are destroyed, a region has lost its option to join the ecotourism boom. Central Ontario’s red wolf – the species whose howls thrill tourists at Algonquin Park every summer – will soon be added to the Canadian endangered species list. Years of bounties, hunting and habitat destruction have taken their toll on these wolves. Unless we change our age-old attitudes towards wolves, millions of dollars will be lost from this growing ecotourism gold mine. This is but one example of endangering our ecotourism potential.

Countless regions of the world are losing their natural resources at an unprecedented rate. Fortunately, Ontario still has a large share of the planet’s undisturbed wilderness spaces. We need to find the right balance, which includes ecotourism, in order to sustain our future economies. There will come a time when harvesting trees no longer keeps up with the demand of an ever-increasing global population. Using up all of our resources in the immediate future will create a huge deficit on both the tourism and resources-based sectors of the market.

The answer to whether or not the provincial government is doing enough to promote ecotourism in Ontario might be found in its theme “More to Discover.” We can only hope that government and joint partnerships will lead the way to discover new travel market trends that promote healthy communities and sustainable lands programmes. The research and the foundations have been laid all around us. There are many voices crying for attention in Ontario’s wilderness. Hunters, anglers, wildlife, cottagers, tourists, miners, loggers and developers all want a share of a diminishing resource. Let’s hope that Ontario Tourism finally hears the voices coming from around the world, eager to see a moose, a hawk, an old white pine and some trilliums. These are worth their weight in gold to a growing number of travellers.

What is Ecotourism?

Travel to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas
to enjoy the scenery and understand the culture of the environment.
Taking care not to alter the integrity of the ecosystem,
while producing net benefits to help further protection
of the natural and/or cultural resources.
(Wildlands League)

It is defined as travel to natural areas that fosters environmental understanding, appreciation and conservation, and sustains the
culture and well-being of local people.
(Young and Goudberg, 1992)

In 1996, 44.9 percent of Canadians participated in watching,
photographing, studying or feeding wildlife.
(Importance of Nature to Canadians, 1996, Environment Canada, full document at

Tourism-related employment grew from 433,300 to 445,700 in 1999.

This is an original story, first published in
The Country Connection Magazine, Issue 37, Summer/Autumn 2001. Copyright Dan Boileau.



Reach us at Pinecone or write PO Box 100, Boulter ON K0L 1G0, Canada • Phone: 613-332-3651
Copyright 2010 Pinecone Publishing, all rights reserved. Web construction by Zylstra Design