It’s hard not to think of any topic right now without breaking time down into B.C. (before COVID-19) and today. This pandemic is the first global disrupter to give us the opportunity to reflect on the changes that were underway B.C. and which of those should be our priority moving forward.

We have an opportunity to build back better. Many of our communities have ground to a halt. We know that the economic impact of this pandemic is going to mean the resetting of priorities with limited resources but it is also the opportunity to chart a new course with purpose.

What if our communities focused on the assets we already have and leveraged those to strengthen and grow our local economies, become more inclusive and welcoming to newcomers, create jobs, foster and share our arts and culture while becoming more sustainable and protecting our environment? Imagine if there was an industry that made up 6 per cent of Global GDP and was growing 5 per cent annually that supported these goals. Imagine if we had a competitive advantage to compete in that industry during this and future pandemics because of our wide open spaces. What if I told you that opportunity is knocking at our door today?

Ecotourism could be the industry that provides a path forward if we chart our future with purpose. A purpose that includes being proud and happy to be here; in our corner of the world. A purpose that welcomes and encourages others to understand us a little better and appreciate the things we hold dear and one that recognizes the assets we possess as communities. A purpose that puts our environment first.

According to the International Ecotourism Society, ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015). The objective of ecotourism is to minimize the impact brought about by tourism on the environment by focusing on uniting conservation, communities and sustainable development through the means of travel and educating both staff and guests.

The demand for such travel has been growing as people recognize the impact of climate change and are reconsidering the ways in which we travel. By seeking out ecotourism experiences, travellers can discover and enjoy natural habitats, while supporting organizations that prioritize sustainability and conservation. Now with the added risks associated with global pandemics, such travel will be even more desirable.

Whether we realize it or not, we are a bit of an exotic location here in Atlantic Canada. Although not tropical, we are unique, unusual and exciting, and just far enough away that travellers don’t really stumble upon our northeastern corner of the continent. However, for those who want to tell their friends about an adventure full of undisturbed coastline, Acadian forests, UNESCO Biospheres and geoparks, thriving rural communities full of rich history, and opportunities for outdoor adventure; New Brunswick fits the bill.

We’ve got amazing organizations in our region that are working hard to attract these visitors. If we come together and collectively support the goals of ecotourism as we build back, we can become a world class destination for travellers who appreciate the work we do and who we are as New Brunswickers while we strengthen our communities.