The dark side of tourism

There is a dark side to the industry I, and so many others, love. As a student of sustainable tourism, it was one of the first things we were aware of; tourism has a multi-faceted dark side, and its up to the leaders in the industry to create a less fractured future. The industry faces major challenges regarding sustainability, and it is crucial that everyone involved acknowledges the negative impacts tourism can have, and just what to do about them.

We recognize how important it is to understand the entire tourism industry, not just the part that enriches and empowers people, and provides exceptional experiences throughout the world.

Tourism can damage lives, ecosystems, and cultures.

In countries all over the world there is evidence of cultural degradation from things like Westernization and foreign ownership, environmental destruction through hotel pollution and the sacrifice of conservation over tourism profits, and the deplorable situations some people find themselves in because of the larger-than-you-think sex tourism industry. It’s unfortunate: tourism has such an ugly side to it.

But this all happens in the developing world, right?

Wrong. We are often unaware that these beasts can occur in our own, pristine backyards. Simply because we live in developed nations like Canada, the UK, Australia, France, and the US, for example, doesn’t mean that we are inherently sustainable, and thus have gold-star records in the tourism industry. We don’t.

Things can go wrong here too.

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games were a landmark tourism opportunity for Vancouver, Whistler, and the rest of British Columbia. The Games were poised to bring in record numbers of tourists; the cities and their attractions needed to cope. This demand forecast prompted businesses to increase their capacities to provide services to the influx of tourists, so that the best experiences could be had by all, and BC would be further reinforced as the self-proclaimed ‘Best Place on Earth’.

But, did anyone think about what would happen after the Games?

Sure. Many did. The ‘Games hangover’, as many in the area called it, had multiple consequences. Emotional lows could be felt across the region, as the party came to an end, and the thousands of people employed in Games-related businesses were thus redundant, and forced to look for new jobs. But John Furlong, VANOC CEO, didn’t just take his entire staff out behind their offices, and do away with them because their Olympic jobs were over, did he? Of course not.

So why did the manager of Outdoor Adventures in Whistler, think his only option was to murder his surplus of 100 sled dogs, procured solely to cope with Olympic-related demand increase?

I could easily write about how sad this news makes me, and how fundamentally wrong these issues are, but I think most people feel the same way, and have already expressed disgust and anger. What’s also important is to understand and evaluate, from a tourism perspective, just what went wrong here. One would hope that if any foresight was used, and post-Games planning was implemented, the slaughter of these dogs would not have been considered, because Outdoor Adventures would have been aware that they could not afford to maintain this number of dogs once their business returned to normal. They would have then decided to procure fewer dogs, and, potentially with the assistance of the BCSPCA, create a post-Games plan in which the dogs would be re-located.

In situations such as these, where the tourism industry is expecting an extreme spike in numbers, there must be a post-event ‘return-to-normal’ plan to ensure minimal damage is inflicted by the unusual circumstances.

VANOC staff were given ample opportunities to participate in career workshops, post-Games advice sessions, and transitional support groups for months leading up t0, and following the Games. It isn’t clear whether the tourism industry leaders, such as Tourism Whistler, created any type of post-Games advice and planning information for its businesses, but it is clear that if they did, Outdoor Adventures ignored it.

The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games were great for this country. They united us like never before, ignited an enormous flame of pride, and reminded everyone here why it is so great to be Canadian. Tourists noticed too. The Canadian Tourism Commission did a fantastic job of drawing tourists in, sustaining the post-Games momentum, and creating a lasting legacy for Canada as a tourist destination. Canadians know how much money the Games generated, and how many people set foot in our red-and-white sea of pride during February and March of 2010. The Games created a legacy; a positive one.

For the most part.

Although the atrocity at Outdoor Adventures happened in April 2010, the public is only learning about it now. Why? Who was really responsible for concealing this horrific truth? One would sincerely hope it wasn’t Tourism Whistler. This is a bloody mark on that positive legacy, and needs to be addressed. None of this should have happened, especially not simply to appease tourists. If it was determined that increasing the number of sled dogs was an unsustainable approach to coping with tourist demand during the Games, perhaps Outdoor Adventures should have instead diversified its services, offering a new product or tour that would be easier and less inhumane to discontinue once the frenzied foreigners retreated.

The Games should not have been justification to act so inhumanely, but the fact is, they were. The Games were used as justification for anything and everything, so long as it brought in the dollars and the glory.

And look what happened.

Tourism has a dark side. Most of us don’t know it, but it does, and can apparently happen anywhere, even the pristine peaks of Whistler. Industry leaders need to be proactive and think long-term to ensure that one-time tourism influxes are able to occur sustainably and without damage to the local residents, environment, and culture. That includes dogs.

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