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Where do we go from here? Considering COVID-19 era research on tourism, recreation, and conservation in Canada.

13:30, Monday 8 May 2023 EDT (1 hour 30 minutes)
Coffee break - SH-4800   03:00 PM to 03:30 PM (30 minutes)

Please join us to present and discuss research on tourism, conservation, and/or recreation in North America. During the session, we’ll connect ideas, concepts, and lessons within papers, and consider implications across them.  We’ll contemplate and contribute to ongoing conversations about possible tourism, recreation, and conservation “resets” as we emerge from the COVID-19 era. 

1. Graci, Rasmussen, and Cukier. Examining Barriers to Indigenous Women’s Entrepreneurship in Tourism in Canada’s North (20 minutes including questions)

Indigenous tourism has been identified as a means to increase sustainable livelihoods in Canada’s Northernmost regions. These areas have traditionally relied on resource based economies which are in transition.  Communities tend to be isolated with minimal infrastructure and the looming threat of climate change. Compounding this are the historic impacts of colonialism and genocide which have fueled intergenerational trauma, mental and physical health issues and violence. Indigenous tourism has the potential to advance health, wealth and prosperity amongst Indigenous peoples by focusing on cultural and natural resource conservation and preservation while demonstrating a strong connection to the land and the community (Aboriginal Tourism Association of Canada, 2015).  In tourism, Indigenous women entrepreneurs provide numerous benefits to their households, communities and the Canadian economy, showcasing their culture, heritage, and traditions (Zapalska & Brozik, 2017; Macpherson, Tretiakov, Mika, & Felzensztein, 2021). Despite this, Indigenous women still lag behind their male counterparts in entrepreneurial businesses and activities (WEKH, 2022; WEKH, 2021). This study seeks to determine the barriers to Indigenous women’s entrepreneurship in tourism in Canada’s North. The objective of this research is to collaborate and co-create knowledge with the First Nations, Inuit and Metis People of the provinces/territories of Newfoundland and Labrador; Northern Quebec, the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Based on a series of interviews with Indigenous women entrepreneurs in tourism and Indigenous and allied led support organizations, this paper 1) explores the barriers affecting Indigenous women entrepreneurs in Canada’s North in the tourism sector and 2) the supports that might advance their success. 

There are several systemic and institutional barriers that are at play in Canada’s North. Financial literacy is a key theme however it is related to systemic issues arising from access to the education and skills development  for Indigenous women. Training may be difficult to obtain in person, internet and infrastructure connectivity may be an issue as well as the remoteness of communities. Resources in the communities need to be built up, collective and responsive. Access to in person education,  professional support such as bookkeepers and accountants as well as a dedicated mentor in the community needs to be prioritized. Many issues are at play such as violence, primary caregiving, mental health  and trauma. Mental health concerns such as dealing with abuse and being in a trauma driven environment inhibits the decision-making capacities within starting a business or obtaining the relevant skills required to feel confident in business. Access to proper medical and mental health supports for women, their families, employees and community is necessary for economic prosperity to thrive. This paper will discuss recommendations that have been developed through a co-created approach with Indigenous women entrepreneurs in tourism in the North.  A focus on a community/provincial or territorial level needs to be established that incorporates the unique and common  barriers  impeding the development of Indigenous entrepreneurship in the North. 


2. Abdel-Malak and Meletis.  Riding the wave(s): Whale-watching operators in British Columbia and perspectives on COVID-19 (20 minutes including questions)

The COVID-19 era and related restrictions have impacted British Columbia (BC) whale- watching operators and their perspectives on whale-watching, and tourism-government relations. Nature/adventure tourism in BC is a vital part of the province’s economic and cultural identity and was on trend for continued growth for the 2020 season before COVID- 19 brought the industry to a near standstill (Ross, 2019; Brouder, 2020). Despite the popularity and importance of whale-watching in BC, and its relative freedom from restrictions given its outdoor operations, tour operators had to negotiate dynamic constraints during the COVID-19 era. Federal and provincial government responses to the pandemic directly impacted whale-watching, for example, by changing the capacity or number of tourists allowed per vessel. Restrictions also impacted additional goods and services offered by some tour operators, such as refreshments. Adapting to such changes required a certain agility on the part of operators. Many operators also accessed key government supports such as loans and wage subsidies. This paper investigates exactly how participating whale watching operators weathered the storm of COVID-19.  It is based on a mixed methods Masters research project (Abdel-Malak 2022) centered on qualitative interview-based research and analysis. It was also informed by limited participant observation on whale-watching tours. Here, we present data gleaned from virtual interviews with 10 whale-watching tour operators. These operators represent approximately 1/4 of the 39 active existing operators on and around Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. We offer participant insights and greater response patterns with respect to: 1) how COVID-19 impacted and challenged whale-watching tourism; 2) how tour operators accessed COVID-19 related supports, and how they perceived them; and 3) how whale-watching tour operators pivoted or change operations; and 4) how tour operators saw the future of their businesses and whale-watching in BC. We begin with an introduction to: whale-watching in BC; COVID-19’s impacts on tourism; government responses; key concepts such as the Tourist Area Life Cycle, and ideas about how tourism and crises. We then present results highlighting key barriers, opportunities, and adaptations noted by participating tour operators, emphasizing their words.  Impacts and challenges faced throughout COVID-19 were experienced in three main ways: (1) capacity restrictions and shutdowns; (2) travel restrictions impacting access to whale-watching tours; and (3) government supports not fulfilling their needs as they worked to pivot their operations. All 10 participants accessed government supports at some point, though satisfaction varied.  Operators revealed adopting additional and sometimes shared voluntary COVID-19 restrictions to keep tourists, crew, and community safe. They also shared possible improvements for future tour operator-government relations.  We present their suggestions, and end the paper by considering longer term implications for whale-watching in BC.


3. Eberts and Espinoza Sanchèz.  Tourism and the Impacts of COVID-19 on Small Communities near a Mega-Resort: Jalisco State, Mexico (20 minutes including questions)

The COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions had an immediate effect on tourism-dependent economies starting at the height of the winter tourism season in 2020. Near the mega-resort community of Puerto Vallarta, in Jalisco State, Mexico, there are many small, rural communities whose economies are affected by the spillovers of tourism in the region. This research attempts to address a series of questions deriving from this relationship in the context of COVID-19: How important was tourism to these communities prior to the pandemic? How were these communities affected by the pandemic, and in particular by the impacts of the pandemic on tourism? How have these communities recovered now that tourism is rebounding? The research is based on resident perception surveys conducted in the summer of 2022, by which time travel restrictions had been mostly lifted and tourism had begun to recover. The first round of results are drawn from two communities which have been designated as Pueblos Mágicos  – Magical Towns – a sort of cultural heritage designation which is meant to give these communities special status, with a primary goal to enhance tourism. The results offer insight into questions of resilience of tourism-dependent economies, and of the effects of tourism on well being and quality of life in these communities.

Master of ceremonies
University of Northern British Columbia
University of Northern British Columbia
Brandon University
Associate Professor
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