Geotourism — a concept defined as tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place, including its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.
An idea both new and old that brings people to a place in order to enhance it rather than harm it, and an idea that is gaining more ground in the Okanagan.
With this focus, the Watershed Intelligence Network (WIN) is facilitating community partnerships in order to strengthen geotourism in the 'Okanagan region' of British Columbia and Washington State.
Project director Don Elzer anticipates that this initiative will roll out over the course of a decade and as it does, it will be strengthened by similar efforts found in other parts of the world.
“We need to realize that our environment here is intrinsically linked to a vast number of ecosystems and species that are not held into place by political geography,” explained Elzer.
He hopes the initiative will encourage the tourism sector and communities involved to expand their efforts in protecting and rehabilitating their core natural and cultural assets.
He also hopes these partners view the 'Okanagan Valley' as a whole concept that is part of a wider Columbia River Basin that includes both Canada and the United States.
Elzer says the project will unfold in small steps, emphasizing the development of stories, events and ideas linked to geotourism in the OkanaganValley.
His team then plans to establish a “Geotourism Stewardship Council” guided by a“Geotourism Charter”.
“We’ll be bringing attention to the risks that we face here such as the loss of biodiversity. At the same time we’ll be sharing stories about places, history and the people who are making a difference in our rapidly changing region."
The project is already in discussions with National Geographic.
Elzer suggests that every decade or so, tourism needs to redefine what it is.
“We see a lot of tourism development happening here, we see more resorts and hotels being constructed; more residential developments are happening all supported by the idea of an Okanagan lifestyle – however in order to deliver this idea, we need to protect the landscape here, and we need to remember the stories about this place.”
“While these core values need to be strengthened, so do the people and services delivering these core values,” added Elzer.
The concept of the hundred mile economy and shopping local also plays an important role in geotourism says Elzer.
“We are seeking to stimulate sustainable tourism in the Okanagan and in Canada. The initiative will help the public recognize that destinations should remain unspoiled for future generations—and we’ll instill the importance of protecting a place's character.”
The North Okanagan's Watershed Intelligence Network role will be to generate editorial and digital content for project leaders and partners and then to broadcast that content regionally, nationally and internationally in an effort to strengthen geotourism in the Okanagan.
“The Okanagan will benefit in so many ways as this world-class collaboration develops.”