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Opportunities and Issues in eco-adventure tourism in Quebec (Conference Report)
The eco-adventure sector of Quebec is comprised of small to medium sized businesses with vast variations in client numbers and profits and this year’s annual AÉQ* conference highlighted the numerous challenges facing this industry. These are not radically different from those in other developed countries, but are typical of an emerging sector constrained by having to adhere to strict principles.
In the era of sustainable development, the social and environmental responsibility of businesses is paramount and this is remains a challenge in Quebec on many levels. Although a clear effort has been invested to organize eco-adventure tourism in Quebec, certain areas need improvement. Many of the issues, as their solutions are complex and interrelated, including small profits, acute seasonal fluctuations in visitor numbers, leadership, organizational structures and governance. This article is not an exhaustive discussion of all issues, but is a general report of what has been highlighted during the conference this year.
Human resource problems
Although economic trends suggest eco and adventure tourism continues to grow, numerous businesses seem to struggle with small profits, recruiting and keeping competent guides, ensuring fairness and equality of salaries (especially in remote areas and in winter). The reality of eco-adventure guides is difficult, in the face of very low salaries and limited professional recognition, as there are no industry standards for their employment in Quebec. This creates inequitable situations between businesses, as well as guides who are trained and experienced, and those who are not, and between guides from certain institutions and those belonging to professional associations. The ratio of “real’ employment opportunities in Quebec in adventure and ecotourism guiding vs. the number of trained guides on the job market is also an issue.
The contribution of eco and adventure tourism to regional development is variable across the regions of Quebec. In general, regional development remains a big challenge for numerous reasons, notably in remote areas with limited infrastructure and service provision.
As elsewhere in the globe where regional economies are traditionally dependent on natural resources, Quebec struggles to favorably and quantitatively present ecotourism. For example, a mining company is often ready to invest 500 million $ and guarantees 300 jobs for 30 years. In the same region, an ecotourism company can say that 10 guides may be needed over this period (if all conditions remain favorable). This is difficult to resolve, but can be addressed firstly by having reliable studies that monitor the net social, economic and environmental benefits of ecotourism in Quebec.
Furthermore, it appears that the eco and adventure sector has a low profile in certain regions and is not always actively involved in important decision-making processes. A solution may be to be more proactive and communicate with elected members, as well as the general community, who need to be informed and educated about the values of ecotourism. Ecotourism can be relatively easily integrated into existing economic and social structures and harness partnerships that have multiple benefits. It appears that Quebec needs a more precise vision for eco and adventure tourism in each region, as well as a series of strategies and implementation plans for the medium and long-term in an economic, social and environmental sense.
Resources and Environment
The long-term prosperity of the industry depends on access to quality natural resources, which was a recurring theme throughout the conference. Equally, the threats created by extraction industries were emphasized (especially forestry and hydroelectric dams). The question of protected areas is a continuing issue and concern remains over the small % of protected areas in Quebec compared to global trends. The global challenge of providing access to protected areas whilst maintaining the quality of resources is equally pertinent in Quebec.
Quebec’s eco and adventure sector is working towards reducing negative environmental and social impacts through Leave No Trace, a proactive international program, adapted and implanted via AÉQ and its partners. The program aims to reduce and avoid negative impacts via education, research and partnerships, while ensuring the needs and satisfaction and needs of users. Although everyone agreed on the importance of the program, the reality of implementation and adaptation remains a challenge, often due to practical difficulties.
Products and Marketing
Quebec has a range of eco and adventure products, but it could improve its positioning in the face of fierce global competition as an eco-destination. How to sell Quebec’s winter ‘appropriately’ and ‘hot’ remains probably the biggest challenge. Given the climatic extremes, businesses could diversify their product and be more polyvalent. There is a need to create more networks around regional product themes, as highlighted by the noteworthy case of the ‘Appalachian Trail’. Many opportunities also remain to develop more combined ‘nature and culture’ products in Quebec. As it was well noted, if Americans can successfully develop products such as ‘in the footsteps of Henry D. Thoreau’, why can’t Quebec offer ‘along the trails of Vigneault’ on the Côte Nord? The regional product possibilities are festinating.
There is still room in Quebec’s eco-adventure sector to establish more local and regional cooperatives along the principles of solidarity as was highlighted, by the noteworthy case of Cap Jaseux. Similar opportunities exist in all regions between tour operators, hotels and others. Such cooperatives allow resource and knowledge sharing, and encourage product complementarities by reducing doubling-up. Furthermore, cooperatives enable more focus on creating unique, and high quality experiences. Although such alliances give synergy for the industry, the risks associated were well acknowledged. The case of Quebec Maritime also illustrated the values in regional networking for more efficient destination marketing.
Quebec’s eco-adventure sector is well on its way in implementing the principles of ecotourism, despite some challenges. Overall the industry is increasingly conscientious to ecologically manage business and clients, but some work remains in this area. Ecotourism has an important role to play in Quebec, primarily to be ahead of the rest of the tourism industry in implementing the principles of sustainable development and show how tourism can positively contribute to economic diversification in a responsible fashion. The latter is also the responsibility of the whole tourism sector, given recent policy orientations in Quebec. Aside from the above issues, work remains in other areas such as establishing a quality certification program and the monitoring of industry via reliable indicators. This could raise the profile of the sector and better inform decision-makers and reassure potential investors.
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