I agree with the recent editorial perspective on the lack of commitment by our provincial government for a champion and dedicated advocate in cabinet responsible for tourism.
The United Conservative Party (UCP) has in my view a myopic perspective of what makes tourism work in this province. Not only do we need a representative in cabinet, but more important, for tourism to continue to be an important part of our local economy, the UCP must among other things, recognize and respect the environment it purports to market.
A protected and well-managed landscape is what we have to offer the world. In 1976, Peter Lougheed thoughtfully brought forth a vision for just this; and requested park administrators of the day create a unique 1,600-square-kilometre multi-use recreation area along the east slopes – Kananaskis County (KC).
KC offered opportunities for Albertans (and visitors) to enjoy the outdoors, yet understand and respect nature. It proved itself to legitimately be one of the “Alberta Advantages” to those who considered a move to Alberta; a great place to live and raise a family.
UCP goals of increasing tourism in the future as an economic driver is misguided without the kinds of supports that any economic development strategy needs from both government and industry. As a local example, how can trailhead access, trailhead parking, trails, trail signage and trail amenities in KC support the many-fold increases in physical use year over year; without irreparable physical damage to the ecosystem?
This year alone, damage has occurred on many local trails due in large part to the enhanced usage and enjoyment by Albertans. Without professional on-going commitment to trail maintenance, this damage will continue to increase.
The buzz words “environmental sustainability,” I would suggest, are not only about maintaining or sustaining what we have, but rather helping these lands, campsites and trails to heal from overuse. In other words, how can government (the legal steward of these lands), help to enhance the physical resources we depend on for successful tourism activities.
This requires provincial government support for maintenance, capital improvements, environmental education at information centres (now closed), to name a few supports. A plan for enhancing our natural resources, not just sustaining them is required. Until those enhancements are carefully thought out, placing more pressure on local landscapes by closing of recreation areas and provincial parks elsewhere in the province makes little sense.
A thoughtful plan, such as what Peter Lougheed envisioned, is what a “civil society” would want. Looking at the big picture of tourism as an agent of economic development, one would think our MLA and her UCP colleagues would be in deep dialogue with local municipal governments, environmental protection advocates and tourism operators about how the province can assist with the kind of supports needed to effectively manage tourism growth.
Tourism is a multi-faceted and multi-departmental area of government responsibility. Let’s treat it and the landscape it depends on, with respect and understanding.