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Best of the City: responsible tourism in Greater Victoria

Destination Greater Victoria is working on relationship building to grow a sustainable tourism economy
Alex Thorne, Fairmont Empress director of operations, holds up a wooden keycard. (Samantha Duerksen)

Greater Victoria received the Responsible Tourism Institute’s (RTI) biosphere certification, making it one of the first urban destinations in Canada to do so.

But how did Greater Victoria get there, what local organizations are also pulling rank, and are they continuing to do what it takes to stay certified?

To start, Destination Greater Victoria (DGV) applied for certification for the region and had to provide evidence of economic, socio-cultural and environmental balance, while keeping in mind the needs of both tourists and the community.

“DGV aims to be a global leader in sustainable tourism, helping to foster a tourism economy that is in line with local values, and ensuring that Greater Victoria remains one of the top destinations in the world,” said Paul Nursey, DGV CEO.

Some of DGV’s greatest successes were being one of the first carbon-neutral destination management organizations (DMO) in North America and being a founding partner of IMPACT Sustainability Travel & Tourism, Nursey said. IMPACT is a summit that explores how the travel industry can rebuild with the intention to create a legacy for regenerative tourism in Canada.

The work is not over. To renew a biosphere certification, an applicant must show that they have continued working on their sustainability plan, which Nursey said they are doing.

“Current sustainability projects include supporting our member businesses and organizations to become biosphere certified and working through the initial phases of a circular economy strategy for the local tourism sector.”

To date, five hotels in Greater Victoria have received biosphere certification. The hotel with the highest RTI rating is Parkside Hotel and Spa.

The Parkside Hotel and Spa moved from carbon-neutral to climate positive in 2022, meaning their activity goes beyond achieving net-zero carbon emissions and actually removes additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Not only do they offer discounted rates to visitors who opt out of daily housekeeping services, they also have a rooftop garden, make use of natural light, offer hotel guests complimentary bikes to explore the city and serve sustainably-sourced food at their Bistro.

Fairmont Empress is also on the list. Alex Thorne, Fairmont Empress director of operations, said one major initiative was to remove all single-use plastic items.

“All of our key cards are now made out of wood. We’ve looked at everything that’s plastic: stir sticks, straws, lids that go on your coffee cups – no plastic,” Thorne said.

Fairmont Empress also has the Bee Sustainable initiative, housing bee colonies in their garden to aid in habitat protection and pollination.

More certified companies can be found on the Biosphere Sustainable website.

“The biggest success has been the relationships and collaborative approach to sustainability that has been fostered across the local tourism sector, and with government and non-profit partners,” Nursey said, which will progress towards building a sustainable tourism economy

READ MORE: Destination Greater Victoria wins international award for sustainable tourism

Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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