Person on kayak under blue and white sky

Photo Credit: Roman Pohorecki

Vancouver Island – The Next Biosphere Destination?

The Biosphere Destination concept could help build back a stronger tourism economy

Tourism Vancouver Island seeks UNESCO’s Biosphere Destination to jump start tourism

Tourism Vancouver Island (TVI) is preparing to raise the Island’s sustainable tourism profile. On April 22, World Earth Day, TVI signed a commitment letter to pursue Biosphere Destination status.

The certification is run by UNESCO’s Responsible Tourism Institute and aligns with the 17 sustainable development goals of the United Nations. Vancouver Island hopes to join the Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association, one of only 34 destination management organizations globally and the first in Canada to achieve this status.

It will take hard work. Imagine putting your household under the sustainability microscope, then apply it to an island 500 km from tip to tail, home to dozens of distinct First Nations and a diverse tourism economy that ranges from backcountry adventure to front country luxury.

“Today marks the first step in a very important process,” said Anthony Everett, President & CEO, Tourism Vancouver Island, in an interview reported by the Business Examiner in April. “It’s a journey that will see the establishment of strategic actions that support responsible growth of the tourism sector in our region …. and encourage discussion on issues related to cultural diversity and sustainability.”

The conversation had already started before COVID-19 swept the planet. However, the pandemic prompted TVI, one of six destination marketing organizations in BC, to lean into the Biosphere Destination concept as a way to build back a more resilient tourism economy.

People want to travel here. Though tourism businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic, Vancouver Island continues to rank high as a travel destination, according to one of America’s leading travel publications. In Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s 2020 Readers’ Choice Awards, Vancouver Island scored #2 in the Top 5 Islands in North America category, while Victoria ranked #8 in the Top 10 Small Cities in the World.

In a press release following the announcement last fall, Everett called it welcome news “at a time when our tourism industry is suffering.”

Before COVID, tourism generated $2.2 billion annually for the Vancouver Island economy and supported 60,000 island jobs. It ranks first or second as an economic driver in most Island communities.