Students outside library

SLM 604 - Leisure and Sustainability: 2014 Field Trip to Ucluelet and Tofino, BC

Sustainability needs to become a unifying story of hope,
a useful myth foretelling the arrival of a new kind of human community.

- Chris Turner, The Geography of Hope

The SLM 604 Group. Photo Credit: Maren Schullerus

In January, 2014, and as part of the SLM 604 course: Influencing Change Towards Sustainability, the Master of Arts in Sustainable Leisure (SLM) students participated in a four-day field trip to Ucluelet ( and Tofino ( on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. SLM 604 aims to provide “an opportunity for learners to understand how to influence change towards sustainability in communities and organizations.” The field trip was designed to give students an opportunity to experience the applied dimensions of course theories and concepts on change, innovation and sustainability.

While in Ucluelet and Tofino the class of 20 students from across Canada, China, India, Germany and Saudi Arabia interacted with community leaders and change agents who shared with them their personal and community stories, their hopes and impact-driven efforts towards positive and sustainable change.

Over the course of four days … I was fortunate to meet individuals from both Ucluelet and Tofino and immerse myself in the change and development endeavours in both places. The background reading on stakeholders and strategic planning proved to be useful in understanding and critically thinking about the activities and the stakeholders involved in each community.  Overall, this experiential learning process was enriching and brought to life what I had previously only read about  … Grounding the readings in real life case studies has been valuable and has reinforced the importance of stakeholders, the value of collaboration over competition, and the power of local individuals to create change.  Importantly, visiting these communities provided practical, applied applications for my learning and has helped me to better understand some of the career possibilities and activities I can engage to achieve my career and personal aspirations and to influence change toward sustainability.
                                                                           - Liane O’Keefe, Field Trip Report

In Ucluelet, we were involved in discussions that expressed the challenges associated with diversifying community (and regional) economies that have for a long-time relied upon the natural resource sectors of fisheries and forestry. The people we spoke with are intimately aware of the way that tourism offers both opportunities and obstacles to small rural and remote communities.

… The second element stakeholders illustrated in the field trip was the need to preserve the identities of the towns. In Ucluelet, a working harbor is right outside the Whiskey Landing Lodge, a luxury hotel. Commercial fishing is busy here even in the peak tourist season. The fishing industry is not hidden from the tourists’ view. Ucluelet tries to maintain the diversification of its economy even though tourism is becoming increasingly dominant. “We want all businesses to shine,” said Cathy Whitcomb, manager of Whiskey Landing Lodge. Since fishing is the traditional industry in the town, they want to preserve this tradition, instead of changing everything for the sake of pleasing tourists. In Tofino, the Botanical Garden, one of the scenic sites, has no street lights. In the evening, visitors see only thick fog and twisted forest in the darkness. There is no sign showing directions in the garden. Everything looks pristine. These are areas of nature rather than tourist attractions. Making no change sometimes can be an innovation for a destination if it serves to distinguish the place from other sites. But making few or no changes doesn’t mean people are doing nothing. Sometimes, it requires more thought and determination because people have to fight the urge not to make changes.

- Xinting Liang, Field Trip Report

Seasonal limitations and planning that ensures that tourism infrastructure will also serve year-round residents are but two of the many challenges communities face when embracing tourism oriented development. Some hosting leaders are in the midst of discussions on the value of positioning education-based tourism in the shoulder and off seasons (September to May) as a way to diversify the more well-established tourism-based summer economy (June to August).

Both Ucluelet and Tofino are exciting places to live, work and raise a family; many people come to these towns on vacation and end up establishing an enterprise with the sole aim of maintaining a desired lifestyle. But these towns have their own sustainability challenges such as affordable housing, seasonable tourism, lack of public transport, etc. It was remarkable to learn about the planning initiatives that are already unfolding within the local community in order to address these challenges.
- Humpreet Ahuja, Field Trip Report

Our group presented a chance for some community leaders to ‘use’ our field trip as a ‘case study’. Through this ‘experiment’ we were very fortunate to enjoy accommodations infrastructure that are underutilized during the off season months; we stayed at the recently opened and wonderfully luxurious Whiskey Landing Lodge ( We were also able to support (and enjoy the yumminess) of services provided by new local entrepreneurs (and VIU graduates!) in the hospitality sector (Solidarity Snacks catering services). In Tofino, we had the pleasure of staying at the Tofino Botanical Gardens Foundation – Ecolodge (

Our field trip programme in Ucluelet included an interactive tourism development panel discussion, and a town tour. It also greatly benefitted from interactive ‘map talks’ on some of the local Indigenous history with Sarah Robinson from the Toquaht First Nation, and a ‘Talk and Roll’ guided bus tour with visits to exciting already-operating and in-progress economic projects with Tyson Touchie, Manager, Economic Development from the Ucluelet First Nation. Gaining a better insight into the challenges and empowerment-oriented possibilities associated with long-fought for empowerment through self-government was eye-opening for Canadian and international students alike.

'Talk and Roll' with Tyson Touchie, UFN. Photo Credit: Maren Schullerus

Communication was a term frequently mentioned by the stakeholders in tourism in both towns, particularly between First Nations and municipal governments. We heard how First Nations people negotiated an alliance with the provincial and Federal government for twenty years before they signed the treaty to govern themselves. The civic engagement in Tofino allows people to discuss issues together in order to make positive changes happen in the community for their common interest. When there is an issue that needs to be addressed, members in the council led by the mayor will invite people from different walks of life to discuss the issue. They are open to diverse opinions and thoughtful suggestions. The civic engagement built up by communication is a combination of a top-down and a bottom-up decision-making process (Jurin, 2012). It not only provides input to community decisions, but also encourages ownership of the shared plan by creating partnerships.

- Xinting Liang, Field Trip Report

Dr. Stephen Wearing from University Technology Sydney (UTS) was the SLM 604 Visiting Scholar and accompanied us on our field trip. Alongside other research interests, Stephen has examined whale watching and whaling and community-based tourism development issues and processes.  As part of our field trip programme, he presented a public lecture which was sponsored by VIU, the World Leisure Centre of Excellence (VIU) and the District of Ucluelet titled ‘Community-based development of eco-treckking on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea’ at the Ucluelet community centre.
During our stay in Tofino, Stephen facilitated a workshop with SLM students on stakeholder perspectives involved in the development of whale watching activities. The Visiting Scholar Programme is supported by the World Leisure Centre of Excellence(VIU) (

Ucluelet Public Lecture with Dr. Stephen Wearing. Photo Credit: Maren Schullerus

The workshops and public lecture by Dr. Stephen Wearing provide good examples of how rural communities through active planning can use their amenities to become famous tourist destinations. It was a great learning experience getting outside the classroom into the community.
 - Humpreet Ahuja, Field Trip Report

The workshop by Dr. Wearing about preparing a strategic plan for a whale-watching business helped me to learn what a planning process looks like, who should be involved in a planning process, who could be the potential stakeholders, how can they be identified, and what role they play. It was interesting to notice how the planning process and stakeholder analysis of a multinational company could be totally different as opposed to the planning process of a local family business, given the same product.

- Manish Kumar, Field Trip Report

Trust and Communication Exercise Led by Dr. Stephen Wearing. Photo Credit: Suzanne de la Barre

Working in Tofino with the Whistler Centre for Sustainability (WCS) (, the SLM students solicited feedback on the draft Vision to Action (V2A) document which compiled findings on the community’s input on the Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP).  In teams of two, SLM students spoke with community members and leaders about their thoughts on the document and its contribution to the planning process specifically as it leads them into the next planning stage. The feedback solicitation exercise presented a unique opportunity for the students to engage with stakeholder and planning processes with invested community members on the future of their community. Student reports were submitted to the WCS as part of their consultation process with The District of Tofino.

The session with Josie Osborne, the mayor of Tofino, provided her vision and perspective as a community leader about the sustainability challenges of Tofino. However, the feedback soliciting exercise made it clearer that we also need to engage with the community to find out their perspective as well. It is extremely important to involve community members in a planning process because they are the key stakeholders in community planning. It is also significant to know their needs and expectations by asking them rather than assuming what they might need.
- Manish Kumar, Field Trip Report

In Tofino, what struck me the most is the local community development plan named ‘Integrated Community Sustainability Plan’ (ICSP). The district of Tofino has made a series of comprehensive strategies and plans based on its situation. Combined with theories and knowledge that I studied in SLM 604, I learned that the participation of key stakeholders is a pivotal factor in the success of an ISCP. Collaboration and innovation play key roles in achieving long-term community success. Long term community success toward this vision cannot be achieved by the District alone. It requires collaboration, innovation and involvement of various interest groups, for instance citizens and local businesses.

- Qingcheng Cao, Field Trip Report

During the Field Trip we not only got theoretical input on how important stakeholders and their identification are, but we were also involved in a community feedback project with the Whistler Centre for Sustainability. The purpose of this project was to solicit feedback from different stakeholders in Tofino, including business owners, residents, and organization representatives on issues discussed in Tofino’s Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP). During this activity it became obvious why stakeholder analysis is important. In this case, it is essential for Tofino’s government to know who the stakeholders are and especially what their goals are, in order to implement an ICSP that takes different opinions and values into consideration. The feedback will help Tofino prioritize the issues addressed in the ICSP and to accommodate the opinions of all stakeholders.

- Maren Schullerus, Field Trip Report

The SLM Group at the Ecolodge - Tofino Botanical Gardens. Photo Credit: Maren Schullerus   

On behalf of myself and the SLM 2014 students, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many community hosts and residents of Ucluelet and Tofino who made the 2014 field trip a rich and enjoyable learning experience.

For an account of our field trip in the local west coast media, please see the Westerly News article available online with these links: and 

Information about the Master of Arts in Sustainable Leisure atVancouver Island University, please go to:

For more information on the SLM 2014 field trip, please contact me, Suzanne, the 2014 SLM 604 course director.

Suzanne de la Barre, PhD

Hope just means that change is all that is certain
and that what we do might matter.

- Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark