Thoughts on Doing Tourism Differently: Celes Devar

The Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia has the opportunity to address tourism, economic development and land conservation in a different way than any other area of Nova Scotia at this time.

As a trained biologist, tourism operator and community economic development facilitator, I’d like to invite a deeper think about the news article above and its implications. My hope is that we embrace a more openly democratic discussion and assessment of tourism and economic development opportunities.

In 2020 in Nova Scotia, how can we have a new Sustainable Prosperity Act, a Coastal Protection Act, and a commitment to climate change mitigation and simultaneously be removing coastal lands? Owls Head has been assessed as having ecological services and features that were deemed worthy of protecting until a development proposal came along, causing a shift in thinking and a justification to remove it from further protection status.

Trading off places of higher ecological value against other locations to make way for a monoculture, polluting golf course development is unsound, regardless of whether the development follows “environmental construction guidelines.” Why? Because it is an ecosystem that currently holds water. It sequesters carbon. It holds high biological diversity. It offers coastal headland protection. It currently has many ecosystem services that it provides to the Nova Scotia landscape and the people of Nova Scotia that will be removed if it is destroyed for a golf course.

Why was it deemed appropriate to trade off a private business development against holding protected land in trust for future generations and the health of the province and the planet?

Suggestions

  1. Instead of trading off development vs. environmental protection, could I suggest that we have some different opportunities available? To initiate a new kind of tourism infrastructure and tourism strategy on the Eastern Shore that offers something completely different from Inverness, Cape Breton, the South Shore, or other high-density tourism hotspots in Nova Scotia.
  • Invest in a series of renewable energy-based projects, eco-lodges and inns that are smaller scale and fully based on new renewable energy, low impact travel opportunities (kayaking, motorbike touring, cultural tourism experiences, seaside foraging and wild culinary experiences, support Sherbrooke Village and other museums even more as experiential tourism hotspots) that reflect the wild Eastern Shore’s wildness, people, stories, and landscape values. This is called experiential and regenerative tourism, where instead of trading off development (or creating a single enterprise resort development) against ecological values, we develop a regional tourism strategy and approach that addresses the complexity of this kind of long term sustainable business thinking. We develop tourism infrastructure in scale with the local landscape and its people.
  • Tourism Nova Scotia is already focusing on experience development for visitors who value learning opportunities (cultural, ecological, recreational) globally and locally. Let’s build a long term economic development strategy based on lower volumes of visitors doing things that locals can instruct them about, and build a storytelling approach into tourism that builds local wisdom and knowledge into the tourism solutions.
  • We have an opportunity to do tourism differently for the long term. Building a luxury resort with golf courses appears to serve a private sector developer and project. It seems that the window for these kinds of singular luxury resort investments with limited benefits, has now passed.

2. Engage all Nova Scotians in an open and participative discussion about protecting more of Nova Scotia’s ecological areas, so that we place carbon sequestration and biological diversity protection of existing lands as the highest priority in all development, not as something to be traded off.

3. Stop any potential sale of private lands to develop this proposed new resort. If it is not possible to stop the sale, let’s consider how to buy back the land and protect it for all Nova Scotians.

4. This month, a significant global document was released by the World Travel Foundation. It is called “Destinations at Risk: The Invisible Cost of Tourism.” I invite and encourage you and your colleagues, local communities, and Tourism Nova Scotia to start assessing several metrics that are currently not being used in tourism in Nova Scotia as part of every tourism infrastructure development, redevelopment, investment, and strategy. 
https://www.thetravelfoundation.org.uk/invisible-burden/

5. Set aside the original lands designated for protection as Owls Head Provincial Park as a registered carbon offset project. Work with the local communities to start developing renewable energy or biodiversity protection projects that employ people, protect lands, and offer long term solutions to business. We don’t have any registered carbon offset projects at the present time in Nova Scotia. It seems that it’s time we created some, so that we can use carbon offset projects as part of our strategy for mitigating the carbon emissions associated with travellers arriving by air to Nova Scotia.

Conclusion

As a tourism business owner, I am not opposed to business development. I encourage entrepreneurship of all kinds. What I am aware of at this time, is that we have to do business differently moving forward. What are some more complete metrics, how do we address complex issues in how we integrate business with environmental protection?

I want to clarify that I don’t see how we can “balance economics vs environmental protection.” Rather, we can develop better ways of doing business that respect nature’s ecological patterns, and create/adjust businesses that give back (regenerative, restorative) rather than take or destroy. It seems that we can no longer afford to destroy places that already contain biodiversity and sequester carbon to then destroy and alter them with monoculture grasslands fed by herbicides, and pave parking lots for private luxury resorts. Not any more.

How do we make decisions involving simple trade-offs of a development proposal against ecological values? The complexity of our current realities (climate change, rising sea levels, economic development, sustainable and healthy communities, low impact tourism development ) requires different analyses and will result in new solutions. We have many more tools and ways to now integrate thinking in business to result in solutions that are in scale with our communities’ aspirations, our local ecology, and imaginative entrepreneurship.


Editor’s Note: These excerpts are from Celes Devar’s terrific letter to Premier McNeil, which we have republished with permission. You can read the unabridged version here.

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