In British Columbia’s Thompson Okanagan region, sustainability is top of mind. This beautiful area, replete with lakes, mountains and steams, is one of our province’s jewels. Unfortunately, it’s also on the front lines of the battle against climate change.
In 2017, Kelowna experienced record levels of spring precipitation that caused historic flooding in the city. Elsewhere, back-to-back record fire seasons have focused awareness on the impact of wildfires, with Thompson Okanagan bearing the brunt of the hardship. In 2018 alone, the region was affected by over 421 fires. Leadership on the issue has sprung forth from affected municipalities but it’s also come from other sources. Sources such as TOTA (Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association.
TOTA – Focus on Sustainability
In November 2017, TOTA was officially designated a “Sustainable Tourism Destination” by Biosphere International and the Responsible Tourism Institute – the first destination in the Americas to earn this designation. They’re also an affiliate member of the United Nations World Tourism Organization. According to Vice President, Ellen Walker-Matthews, their approach to sustainability isn’t just common sense, it’s essential to the future of the region:
“Sustainability is at the core of all of the work that TOTA has undertaken since we launched the Thompson Okanagan Regional Tourism Strategy ‘Embracing Our Potential’ in 2012,” she said.
“It was clear when we traveled through the region, during the development of the strategy, that our stakeholders were concerned that we not grow tourism at any cost but rather ensure the right visitor in the right location at the right time.
“Since then we have worked closely with our regional communities, stakeholders and industry partners to help lead tourism in this region with an emphasis on responsible and sustainable delivery and development of products and activities.”
Taking Tangible Steps
Under the Paris Climate Accord, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) have been laid out by the United Nations World Tourism Organization. TOTA undertakes extensive consultation with stakeholders each year to ensure compliance with these goals. From this audit, an annual action plan is drawn up to plot a sustainable path forward.
“As part of our commitment to our certification we have an Interdepartmental Committee whose members represent each of the 17 SDG areas,” Ellen explains.
“This group sees organizations, that may not realize their role in tourism, coming together to work collaboratively on key issues that effect the tourism industry in Thompson Okanagan for the long term.
“Through another program called Biosphere Adhesion we are working with communities and stakeholders around the region to participate in aligning their business and our activity with the 17 SDG’s, undertaking four or five initiatives per year.”
Hear from Ellen Walker-Matthews of TOTA at INSPIRE
On October 1 at INSPIRE, TOTA’s Ellen Walker-Matthews will form part of our panel on business’ role in climate action. She’ll discuss the initiatives undertaken in Thompson Okanagan, as well as how sustainability aligns with the broader tourism industry.
“Attendees will hear about the initiatives we have undertaken, but more importantly the breadth and depth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and how far reaching they are. Protecting our natural resources for future generations is critical in building a tourism industry that can sustain over the long term. We have to be willing to take a short-term loss for long term gain.
“The right visitor, at the right place, at the right time… it makes all the difference!”
Secure Your Ticket
Visit our INSPIRE event page to find out more information about this important night and secure your ticket.