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Tourism under the microscope

FaceForward: The People and Stories of Memorial
By Janet Harron | April 9, 2015

Stakeholders considering reforming the Crown Lands Act should really sit down and have a chat with sociologist Dr. Mark Stoddart.

On April 7, the same day a public consultation on Crown lands was held in St. John’s, Dr. Stoddart formally launched the summary report Puffins, Kayaks and Oil Rigs: Shifting Modes of Society-Environment Interaction on the Newfoundland Coast at the ARTS on Oceans research symposium.

A key recommendation in the report calls for greater attention given to protecting the integrity of the East Coast Trail from encroaching real estate development.

East Coast Trail
"The East Coast trail is a fantastic example of a tourism anchor that also serves as a great recreational amenity for local communities," said Dr. Stoddart. "Without any protection, the trail is at risk from being chipped away by real estate development and other uses incompatible with its ecological and social integrity."

The report states that Newfoundland and Labrador currently ranks third lowest among Canadian provinces and territories for protected land, and given the significance of the East Coast Trail as both a tourism attractor and community recreational space, the need to develop a protected areas strategy for the project "seems obvious and overdue."

It is indisputable that Newfoundland and Labrador’s tourism marketing strategy relies heavily on iconic images of whales, icebergs, coastal landscapes and authentic experiences. A recent ad boasts that the province is “about as far away from Disneyland as you can possibly get.”

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)-funded report examines this strategy and the possible tensions of trying to create new ways of living with – and making a living from – coastal environments through nature-oriented tourism and offshore oil development.

Dr. Stoddart and his team also considered the negative implications of climate change on tourism and key challenges to tourism development, many of which are outside the control of individual tourism operators, in terms of transportation, the short tourism season and the uneven consistency and quality of food services in the province.

The report recommends that regional tourism networks should be encouraged and that the distinctiveness of regions, as opposed to specific anchor communities, should be emphasized.

Dr. Stoddart used a tourism mobilities perspective throughout the project whereby tourism is seen as global networks of people, transportation technology and infrastructure and communication media, connected through local communities and environments. The larger SSHRC project also included case studies on the Burin Peninsula and the Battle Harbour National Historic District. Gros Morne is also singled out as the province’s most iconic protected area and one in which the impacts of oil development on the West Coast will continue to be measured against the social and ecological benefits that the park provides to the region and the province.

He hopes that this project will have both academic and applied relevance for the ways we think of tourism as a form of social-environmental interaction. Articles from this project have been published or are forthcoming in Environmental Sociology, Nature & Culture, Mobilities, and the Newfoundland Quarterly. The summary report has been shared with research participants and stakeholders in the provincial government, tourism operators and promoters, and non-governmental organizations.

“When people see that tourism can contribute to social, economic and environmental well-being, they are more likely to support tourism development and to have a stake in the positive impacts of tourism,” said Dr. Stoddart. “At the same time, we should approach tourism development with full awareness of its potential challenges and drawbacks.” 

The sociologist hopes the recommendations in the final project report will help advance tourism development in ways that contribute to social-environmental sustainability. 

The entire report can be viewed at Academia.edu and Dr. Stoddart can be followed on Twitter at @mcsj13.