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Geotourism

2010 Geotourism Summit

Trout Point Lodge at the 2010 Geotourism Summit

According to the Center for Sustainable Destinations at the National Geographic Society:

Geotourism is defined as tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.

Geotourism incorporates the concept of sustainable tourism—that destinations should remain unspoiled for future generations—while allowing for ways to protect a place’s character. Geotourism also takes a principle from its ecotourism cousin,—that tourism revenue should promote conservation—and extends it to culture and history as well, that is, all distinctive assets of a place.

On February 1-3, Vaughn Perret and Charles Leary attended the 2010 Geotourism Summit at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C. As delegates and guests of the Society and Ashoka’s Changemakers, Perret & Leary both attended a Geotourism Ambassador training, receiving certificates signed by Jonathan Tourtellot, Director of the Center for Sustainable Destinations. On February 2, Charles Leary made a brief presentation as 1 of the 10 Geotourism Challenge finalists chosen from over 600 entries from over 80 countries.

Perret & Leary hope to continue to work with the Center for Sustainable Destinations on a Geotourism Map project for southern Nova Scotia.

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Trout Point Lodge creates a destination tourism experience in a way that supports and promotes the under-appreciated natural, social, and cultural riches of the Tobeatic Wilderness Area and the Southern Nova Scotia Biosphere Reserve. By not promoting solely coastal tourism –which is the mantra of official tourism policies– and being a “eco-lodge” in a northern, developed country, Trout Point challenges some common preconceptions about what an eco-destination is or can be. Trout Point currently consists of an 8-room Great Lodge including restaurant, 8 stone fireplaces, teaching/working kitchen, and public areas, 3-room villa, 2 cottages, & 100 acres of Acadian Forest  with extensive river frontage, the nearest human habitation being at least 15 km away to the south and hundreds of km to the north; facilities include: nature guides, canoes, kayaks, wood-fired hot tub, boardwalks, on-site trails, adjacent hiking trails, mountain bikes, small spa, fire pit, GPS units for self-guided excursions, cooking classes & culinary vacations, as well as  on-site organic vegetable, herb, and flower gardens fed by gray water system.

Visiting the Yarmouth area of Nova Scotia, ourselves as tourists from Louisiana in 1996, we found a land rich with natural beauty, diverse cultures, a wealth of local food possibilities, and an intriguing history.  We ourselves had come to the province following the Acadian French cultural connection with our home state.

As we investigated Yarmouth County’s history, we discovered that a well-developed tradition of nature camps, lodges, and guides had existed starting in the 19th century, which had all but petered out by the 1950s, when the wave of roadside motels and seaside cottages took over. Checking into accommodations in Yarmouth was like stepping into a time machine, taking you back to 1970. Our stays at the “El Rancho Motel” in 1996 & 97 were emblematic of this state of affairs.

But, scattered here and there physical remnants of the previous tourism tradition survived, which very much appealed to geotourism values. Most of the old camps and lodges had burned or literally deteriorated, one—tellingly– became a retirement home, others were in private hands.

After 2 years of searching for a forest parcel that would not be affected by neighbouring timber holdings and the threat of clear cuts–a goal not so easily attainable in southern Nova Scotia, we happened upon acreage at the confluence of 2 rivers, perfect for a wilderness lodge. Just 3 days after the purchase, the provincial legislature declared the Tobeatic as a protected area, ensuring that the lands across the river and to our north would never be open to commercial development or cutting.

Facing early scepticism that a destination property in the woods of economically-challenged Yarmouth County could survive, Trout Point now enters its 11th season of operation. Despite its earlier heritage, recently the Yarmouth area was not known as a destination, but rather as the southern “gateway” for foreign tourists arriving via ferry. Nova Scotians themselves viewed the area as remote, undeveloped, and uninteresting, and in our experience, few had heard of the Tobeatic, despite the fact that it’s the largest protected area in all of Atlantic Canada.

Now, the Lodge serves as a springboard for guests to learn about the Acadian Forest ecosystem and always has naturalists on staff to provide meaningful interpretive experiences that emphasize place.

Trout Point has: (1) implemented energy monitoring, recycling, composting, and on-site gardening programs that expand each season; (2) more than tripled revenues since first opening, allowing us to improve our impact on the local economy, create new employment, invest in new practices such as converting 90% of lighting to energy-efficient bulbs, all paper to 100% recycled, all cleaning products to natural, new employee apprenticeship & training programs, and the expansion of marketing reach; (3) gone from hiring 2 locals per season in 2000 to hiring over 15 (mostly local) in 2009; (4) increased its primary season from early July  to early October in 2000  to 1st of May to the end of October in 2010, with some facilities now open year round; (5) and has successfully diversified its visitation from 90% U.S.-origin in 2000-2004 to the current state where local guests represent the single most important geographic category & overall Canadian/international numbers are up.

Over the past 10 years, Trout Point has innovated by re-vitalizing backwoods & nature tourism, culinary tourism, and Acadian French cultural tourism in Nova Scotia. While a regional tourism crisis developed for local accommodations in the mid to late 2000s, Trout Point has advanced based on geotourism principles. These include: low-cost marketing using the Internet as a primary vehicle and restricting the use of print/paper resources; encouraging local memory of the area’s “great camp” and Acadian-cultural heritage; constantly striving to enhance & expand eco-friendly practices, and publicizing & formalizing these extensively; making Trout Point one with the local place, promoting the concept of destination rather than gateway; fully engaging with local tourism partners and encouraging guest use of tourism infrastructure located within .1 to 50 km range from the Lodge; pioneering a perspective on the Tobeatic Wilderness Area and the Southern Nova Biosphere as having geotourism potential.

Trout Point’s offerings include experiences that make guests one with the place: 1. The Lodge counts as the only accommodation/destination giving travelers immediate access to the wilderness via hiking trails, canoe, kayak, and guided excursions with staff naturalists. 2. We have offered the Nova Scotia Seafood Cooking School since 2000, teaching participants about local, sustainable seafood choices, food origins, and cooking techniques, including Acadian styles. 3. The accommodations blend seamlessly with the local Forest environment, built from Atlantic Canadian white spruce logs & Nova Scotia granite, with wildwood furniture handcrafted from branches and saplings cut from the property. 4. Trout Point is a true nature retreat, with no cell phone reception, no TVs in the rooms, and an emphasis on eco-friendly practices.

Staff naturalists provide guests with the natural history of the Tobeatic Wilderness and the Acadian Forest Ecosystem. Location, identification, & reporting of species at risk is encouraged. Reading materials in each guest room provide a description of the area, including not just the forest as a natural phenomenon but also the indigenous, Acadian French, and later English settlements impact on the use of the backwoods. Cooking classes provide an ingredients-based history of Acadian-Cajun culture and inculcate an understanding of local fisheries, sustainable seafoods, and current environmental questions. By emphasizing how Trout Point is re-invigorating a once-lost local tourism tradition of backwoods camps and guides, the Lodge also encourages local involvement and pride. We are happy to announce that in 2010 someone from the local village of Kemptville—center of the previous camp & guide tradition that had all but disappeared—will be the primary guide at Trout Point, but breaking with tradition, she is a woman.

Our hope is that Trout Point will develop practices and strategies of management translatable to other tourism enterprises in other situations. From a sheer effort at financial survival particularly with the loss transport links in the last 5 years, the Lodge has had to develop itself into a destination property, rather than one receiving guests for 1 night on their way elsewhere. The goals of Trout Point as a destination coincide wholeheartedly with the promotion and sustainable use of the Tobeatic Wilderness and the Southern Nova Scotia Biosphere, and only through stewardship of this destination and its local society will the Lodge prosper. Our geo-tourism management approach has been enhanced through experiences in Costa Rica and Spain, where we have developed very small-scale accommodations that also speak of place, and our future project is the creation of a destination property and agri-tourism enterprise in the historic urban quarter of Granada, Spain.

Before I end I just wanted to briefly mention that just before Christmas, 2009, Nova Scotia’s Tourism Minister announced the end of all subsidies for the ferry service that has for well over 110 years linked southern Nova Scotia to the north eastern United States in the name of “sustainability,” for us at Trout Point and for the local community, an ironic situation that will create hardship and that poses real questions about exactly what destination tourism means and requires.

Vaughn Perret & Charles Leary at the 2010 Geotourism Summit

Vaughn Perret & Charles Leary at the 2010 Geotourism Summit. Photo copyright Charles L. Leary; All Rights Reserved.

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