Where do we go from here? Considering COVID-19 era research on tourism, recreation, and conservation in Canada.
4. Zhang and Meletis. Integrated trails: Combining real and virtual tourism experiences to improve accessibility and experiences in Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia (20 minutes including questions)
Northern BC houses a “Game of Thrones”-worthy UNESCO Global Geopark with numerous in-situ dinosaur tracks and fossils, a paleontology-focused museum, and a dazzling array of trails and sites (https://www.tumblerridgegeopark.ca). Its internal gateway community, Tumbler Ridge, is a mining town (Gill, 2002) with a growing tourism profile (Halseth & Sullivan, 2002). Tumbler Ridge’s geographical location and its varied physical landscape are two key influences on its unique attractions. At the same time, its remote location and distance from large tourism markets limit its accessibility. Similarly, its easiest trails are not very accessible as they involve little site hardening or infrastructure. And, its most charismatic trails and views demand greater levels of agility, fitness, skills, and training. Its attractive rugged landscapes and its limited connectivity (transportation-wise and technology-wise) are integral parts of its appeal. At the same time, they compound remoteness and accessibility-linked challenges for both regional residents and external visitors. The project we present here was co-developed with two research partners: The Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation and the Tumbler Ridge UNESCO Global Geopark. It explores virtual tourism and accessibility, with a mixed methods case study of Tumbler Ridge at its core. In this paper, we use the results of a literature review and an environmental scan to address the following questions: 1) what is a virtual tourism experience (VTE) and what types of VTEs exist, particularly with respect to parks, museums, and rugged outdoor attractions?; and 2) which VTEs could be appropriate integrations for Tumbler Ridge? First, we propose the term “virtual tourism experience” (VTE) as an overarching label, and we discussthe types of experiences, technologies, and interactions housed within it. We follow this by presenting preliminary VTE review findings, with a special emphasis on museums, parks, and geological attractions. We then contemplate the integration of virtual tourism experiences in Tumbler Ridge. We discuss the strengths and limitations of various VTE formats, and consider their potential applicability as complementary components. We pair these considerations with existing strengths, limitations, constraints and opportunities, and we end with potential ways forward on site and beyond. Tumbler Ridge, BC offers an emblematic case study of a landscape-dependent destination community facing challenges tied to its remote and rugged location. Such sites celebrate their unique geographies but are also limited by them in that they can complicate diversification, dynamism, and accessibility. We see some potential bridging power in VTEs, however, because they can escape, substitute for, or augment existing landscapes, depending on the type, use, and integration (Chang, 2021; Griffin et al., 2023). Ultimately, we hope that our project and its outputs can serve as useful references not only for our partners in Tumbler Ridge, but also for other destination communities considering the integration of VTEs to improve experiences and/or increased accessibility.
5. Meletis, Abdel-Malak, Hagerty, Pumphrey, and Zhang. Learning alongside my students: key insights across 4 case studies of tourism and sustainability during the COVID-19 era (20 minutes including questions)
Many scholars have drawn special attention to studying tourism during the COVID-19 era and to thinking about how tourism might or should emerge after the end of this era (e.g. see Brouder 2020). Sharing contemporary graduate student research with wider audiences in the applied and academic tourism worlds is critical in this regard. In this paper, we consider 4 Masters student projects that Meletis has had the privilege of supervising or co-supervising (Abdel-Malak 2022; Hagerty 2022; Pumphrey 2023; and Zhang ongoing). We draw together thoughts and ideas from across the case studies on what each offers for contemplating tourism planning/management and tourism research after COVID-19. Abdel-Malak’s (2022) case study on whale watching on/around Vancouver Island in British Columbia calls our attention to suggestions “from the waves up” by offering perspectives from 10 tour operators. The operators offered informal assessments of government supports for small businesses during COVID-19, and suggested notable areas for improvement. Abdel-Malak’s resulting knowledge mobilization efforts include a video and short document with infographics that summarize her project mightily in an appealing and accessible format, leaving us with powerful student-generated examples of going beyond academic texts. Hagerty’s (2022) project on “Vegan Vancouver” reminds us that in addition to consulting with industry operators, we should draw upon other ready sources for inspiration, such as veganism. Viewing veganism as a holistic philosophy that goes far beyond diet, he asked vegan entrepreneurs (VEs) about enacting veganism via their small businesses, situating his study in a city known for vegan eating. His participants shared notable ideas for re-imagining restaurants, sustainable cities, and community, suggesting future sustainability foci in research and planning/management. Hagerty’s project outputs (blog entries posted to his website www.itsbreeandben.com) also offer a good example about how we might get more creative in promoting and sharing our research results. Pumphrey’s (2023) case study of bear jams or traffic jams caused by roadside bear-viewing, in Peter Lougheed Memorial Park in Alberta brings two new unique data sets for consideration. Her project provides recommendations from former and current Park employees, other experts, visitors, and the literature, on how to best to satisfy visitors seeking intimate encounters with bears while simultaneously reducing negative impacts on wildlife and humans. She emphasizes the need to offer and augment viewing opportunities, to engage with “Instagram culture,” and to improve communication and outreach in particular ways, meeting visitors where they are. Ongoing research about virtual and real tourism in Tumbler Ridge, BC with Yihang Zhang has already yielded some interesting considerations as well. We include insights here with respect to the need for ongoing attention to tourist and destination identities and roles when researching tourism and formulating recommendations within real world constraints. We also speak to the power of working with industry partners, and conducting face-to-face in-person research, despite existing challenges or alternatives. Drawing this paper to a close, we emphasize higher order considerations for researchers and practitioners alike, drawing from the 4 case study-based projects and emphasizing shared themes. As tourism researchers, our responsibilities include supporting and showcasing student research and carrying it forward in our own thinking, emphasizing ideas we have learned from and alongside students. Here, we emphasize key examples to contemplate “where we might go from here” as we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 era. We contextualize these within Canada’s reliance on tourism as part of economic diversification. We also allude to the challenges of maintaining and growing tourism in a warming world, across our vast geography, and amidst ongoing economic turbulence. As we emerge from this era, we must quilt together tourism research lessons learned on both sides of the desk to richly discuss “where we should go next.”
6. Discussant: Dominic Lapointe (10 minutes)
7. General/integrative 10 minutes of discussion across the room