The summit is a phenomenal opportunity for everyone in the region to begin thinking about showcasing green products, green business, green technology and local projects that protect wildlife and promote environmental awareness on a global scale, said Ella Kokotsis, director of research for the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto during a lecture on Ecotourism and the G8 at the Algonquin Theatre in Huntsville on June 18.
Ecotourism and the G8 was the fourth lecture to be held as part of the Muskoka Watershed Council and the Muskoka Heritage Foundation’s lecture series on issues important to Muskoka’s environment and watershed health.
During the lecture, Kokotsis and two other keynote speakers, Paul Eagles, a professor in ecotourism at the University of Waterloo and Robin Tapley, a local ecotourism operator, provided guests with an overview of significant environmental actions that have been undertaken by G8 leaders in the past, ecotourism around the world and how various communities and business leaders can apply some of that knowledge to Muskoka.
“Over the years it has become increasingly apparent that environmental stewardship has really become a key cornerstone of the G8 summits,” said Kokotsis, who has attended 13 G8 summits around the world.
Showing photo slides of various areas in the world that have become popular eco-tourism sites, Eagles said, “Eco-tourism is becoming a global phenomenon,” but admitted he is skeptical of the impacts that mega events have on smaller communities, as they tend to draw a huge high and then drop off.
But if a region invests properly in eco-tourism, he said, there are a lot of long-lasting benefits that will continue to attract tourists from all over the world.
“This summit is really a great opportunity to begin building a popular tourist attraction in Muskoka,” said Eagles, adding that in order to build a strong eco-tourism industry, there has to be a lot of community networking and involvement.
Eagles pointed out that eco-tourism helps to balance destructive economic pressures from logging and farming, distributes money from urban developed areas to undeveloped areas, and provides quality jobs in rural areas, as well as environmental education and a local incentive to preserve nature.
However, some downfalls are if it is poorly managed, it could have a negative impact through overdevelopment, marginalize local people who do not have the required skills (such as language), cause cultural change or lead to land price increases.
At the end of the lecture, Huntsville mayor Claude Doughty stood up and confirmed to the crowd that he believes the area’s main growth potential is promoting the environment.
A few months ago there was a call put out to gather as many images of the Muskoka area as possible, in order for its natural landscapes to be showcased at the upcoming 2009 G8 Summit in Italy.
“The theme behind that is to try and encourage background reporters to come six months ahead of time (hopefully this September), so we can have the international media view and showcase to the world our prettiest season,” explained Doughty, adding he is already getting e-mails and calls from countries such as China, asking to come early and learn about the area’s environment and what it has to offer.