Main Body

Chapter 5. Recreation

Don Webster

Learning Objectives

  • Differentiate between recreation, outdoor recreation, adventure tourism, and nature-based tourism
  • Describe the significance, size, and economic contribution of this sector to the overall tourism industry in BC
  • Identify key industry organizations in recreation, outdoor recreation, and adventure tourism
  • Classify different subsectors of recreation, outdoor recreation, and adventure tourism
  • Recognize the unique challenges facing recreation, outdoor recreation, and adventure tourism in BC


In this chapter, we discuss the concept of recreation in tourism and hospitality. Recreation can be defined as the pursuit of leisure activities during one’s spare time (Tribe, 2011) and can include vastly different activities such as golfing, sport fishing, and rock climbing. Defining recreation as it pertains to tourism, however, is more challenging.

Two people climb a rock face.
Figure 5.1 Climbers in Squamish, BC

Let’s start by exploring some recreation-based terms that are common in the tourism industry. Outdoor recreation can be defined as “outdoor activities that take place in a natural setting, as opposed to a highly cultivated or managed landscape such as a playing field or golf course” (Tourism BC, 2013, p. 47).  This term is typically applied to outdoor activities that individuals engage in and that are located close to their community. When these activities are further away, and people must travel some distance to participate in them, they are often described as adventure tourism.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), adventure tourism is “a trip that includes at least two of the following three elements: physical activity, natural environment, and cultural immersion” (UNWTO, 2014, p.12).  Examples of adventure tourism in BC include river rafting, helicopter skiing, and rock climbing.

Take a Closer Look: UNWTO Global Report 

The Global Report on Adventure Tourism by UNWTO offers an in-depth analysis of the global adventure travel sector. It can be found at

Adventure tourism can be “soft” or “hard.” Differentiating between the two is somewhat subjective, but is loosely based on the level of experience required, the level of fitness required, and the degree to which the participant is exposed to risk (UNWTO, 2014).  Examples of soft adventure include wildlife viewing or moderate hiking, whereas river rafting or rock climbing would usually be considered hard adventure.

Another term that is used, one that overlaps with the definitions of outdoor recreation and adventure tourism, is nature-based tourism, which refers to “those tourism experiences that are directly or indirectly dependent on the natural environment” (Tourism BC, 2005b, p.6).  This term is often used to describe activities that are closely connected to nature, such as whale watching, birding, or self-propelled travel such as hiking and kayaking.

As you can see, there are challenges in classifying recreation in tourism. For instance, if people kayak near their home or community, it may be considered outdoor recreation. If they travel afar for that same activity, it likely is designated as adventure tourism. If the kayaking is done in protected, mild conditions, it would be considered soft adventure, but if done in a challenging and risky river descent, it may be classified as hard adventure.

Of course, each of the above scenarios of kayaking could be considered nature-based tourism if it is strongly linked to the natural environment. Ultimately, categorization is based on a combination of several factors, including manner of engagement in the activity (risk exposure, experience requirement, group or solo activity), the distance travelled to access the activity, and the type of environment (proximity to nature, level of challenge involved) that that the activity occurs in.

A 2013 adventure tourism market study discovered that people who travel for adventure experiences tend to be well-educated, with 48% holding a four-year degree or higher credential. They value natural beauty and rank this as the highest factor when choosing a destination, and the most cited reasons for their travel are relaxation “relaxation, exploring new places, time with family, and learning about different cultures” (UNWTO, 2014, p.15).

Globally, it is estimated that the continents of Europe, North America, and South America account for 69% of adventure tourism, or US$263 billion in adventure travel spending. Adventure tourists tend to be seen as high-value visitors, with as much of 70% of their expenditures remaining in the communities visited (UNWTO, 2014).

The size, extent, and economic contribution of recreation, outdoor recreation, and adventure tourism in British Columbia is also substantial. The rest of this chapter explores the sector in the province in more detail.

Recreation and Adventure Tourism in BC

Studies have shown that nearly all residents of BC partake in some kind of outdoor recreation activity during any given year. Approximately 85% of those participants indicate that these recreational activities were very important to them (Tourism BC, 2013).

Spotlight On: Outdoor Recreation Council of BC

The Outdoor Recreation Council of BC (ORC) describes itself as “promoting access to and responsible use of BC’s public lands and waters for public outdoor recreation” (Outdoor Recreation Council of BC, 2014). The Council promotes the benefits of outdoor recreation, represents the community to government and the general public, advocates and educates about responsible land use, provides a forum for exchanging information, and connects different outdoor recreation groups. For more information, visit the Outdoor Recreation Council of BC website:

A lake bordering bare mountain. A boat moves across the middle of the lake.
Figure 5.2 Joffre Lake Provincial Park, where adventure tourists access secluded camping spots by carrying (or boating) in their gear

It is estimated that there are approximately 2,200 outdoor/adventure tourism operators in BC. In 2001, this accounted for 21,000 jobs and $556 million in direct wages. The last sector-wide study in 2005 estimated that business revenues in outdoor adventure tourism accounted for approximately $854 million in annual business revenues (Tourism BC, 2013). Given the growth of adventure tourism over the last decade, it is likely these numbers have risen.

Additionally, in the current five-year provincial tourism strategy, entitled Gaining the Edge, outdoor/adventure tourism is indicated as one of six key areas targeted for growth (British Columbia Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, 2012). This government support, combined with the rapid growth of the outdoor and adventure tourism industry, point to a strong future for this sector.

Take a Closer Look: Outdoor Adventure Sector Profile

Outdoor Adventure: Tourism Sector Profile, a report produced by Destination BC, includes information on the size, type, and characteristics of tourism companies in this sector. Also included is market demand for these activities and future challenges the sector faces. You can find the report at Outdoor Tourism Sector Profile [PDF]:,-May-2014/Tourism-Sector-Profile_OutdoorAdventure_May2014.pdf.aspx

This section covers two key types of recreation and tourism, with a focus on British Columbia:

  1. Land-based recreation and tourism
  2. Water-based recreation and tourism

It’s not possible to detail all the recreational activities available in BC, but by the end of this section, you will have an understanding of the key unique activities available in the province.

Land-Based Recreation and Tourism

Golf Courses and Resorts

A 2009 economic impact study found that more than six million Canadians participate in the game of golf each year, making this sport the number one outdoor recreational activity in Canada based on participation. Golf also directly employs more than 155,000 people and contributes more than $11 billion directly to Canada’s gross domestic product. BC has over 300 golf course facilities, and with over $2 billion annually in direct economic activity, the golfing industry in the province is the fourth largest in Canada (Strategic Networks Inc., 2009).

Golf is a significant tourism attraction in BC; in 2007 the province was chosen as the “Best Golf Course Destination in North America” by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (Destination BC, 2014c).  Part of the draw is the diverse environment; golfers can choose from lush coastal forests to desert environments, and many courses have a viewscape of mountains or the ocean.

A 2006 study by the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) detailed both demographic and economic factors related to the Canadian golf industry. Significant findings included that there were more than 3.4 million golf travellers in Canada annually, and that of those travellers, approximately 34% travelled to BC. In addition, the Canadian golf participation rate (for the total Canadian population) was 21.5%, which is among the highest golf participation rates of any country in the world. Golfing provides an opportunity to attract significant tourism revenue as the average golf traveller has a much higher than average income level, with up to 50% of all golf travellers earning $100,000 or more per annum (Tourism BC, 2009b).

Spotlight On: British Columbia Golf Marketing Alliance

The British Columbia Golf Marketing Alliance is a strategic alliance that represents 58 regional and destination golf resorts in BC. The purpose of the alliance is to grow the game of golf in BC and achieve recognition nationally and internationally as a leading golf destination. The alliance supports and distributes information about research, lobbying efforts, and golf industry events. For more information, visit the Allied Golf Association of BC website:

Mountain Resorts and Nordic Centres

Resorts in British Columbia range from smaller eco-lodges to large ski areas. Mountain resorts and nordic centres are part of the larger resort tourism sector, which in 2004 was valued at $1.9 billion (Tourism BC, 2011c).

Figure 5.3 A man stands ready to ski down Blackcomb mountain in Whistler, BC

Ski/Snowboard Mountain Resorts

BC’s many world-class facilities and high-quality snow conditions provide mass appeal for downhill skiing and snowboarding. Mountain resorts in BC can be separated into two principal categories: destination resorts and regional resorts. Destination mountain resorts are often significantly larger and offer a greater range of amenities such as on mountain accommodation and food services; they are also generally marketed to out-of-area and international visitors. Examples of a destination resort would include Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort. On the other hand, regional mountain resorts are usually smaller in size and capacity, have fewer amenities, and often cater more directly to the local community (Tourism BC, 2011c) such as Whitewater Ski Resort in the Kootenay Rockies.

Spotlight On: Canada West Ski Areas Association

Ski areas in Western Canada (Alberta and BC) are represented by the Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA), which has a diverse mandate that includes marketing, advocacy, environmental stewardship, and risk management. For more information, visit the Canada West Ski Areas Association website:

The aggregate economic value of destination mountain resorts is significant; one study by Tourism BC found that 13 of these resorts were responsible for generating approximately 1.1 billion in revenue, or 8% of the total provincial tourism revenues in 2008. Additionally, they provided the equivalent of 14,267 full-time equivalent jobs (Tourism BC, 2011c). Furthermore, BC’s top mountain resorts have received many prestigious awards (Tourism BC, 2011c, p. 11):

  • Whistler Blackcomb has consistently been named the #1 ski resort in North America.
  • In 2009, Sun Peaks was named one of the “Top 20 Ski Resorts in North America” by 
Condé Nast Traveler.
  • Big White Ski Resort was recognized in 2009 as a “Top 5 Family Resort” by the UK-based Sunday Times.

The publicity that these resorts receive has undoubtedly reflected positively on the rest of the BC tourism industry.

Spotlight On: “Ski It to Believe It”

Destination BC offers a specific mountain resort marketing website for 13 destination resorts in BC called “Ski It to Believe It.” The site features live updates on snow conditions, resort info, a map featuring all BC ski destinations, blogs, and dynamic content featuring visitors enjoying various skiing experiences including heli, cat, backcountry, and downhill skiing. For more information, visit the Ski It to Believe It website:

Nordic Centres

Nordic skiing, also commonly known as cross-country skiing, is a low-risk, low-impact winter sport popular across Canada. It differs from backcountry skiing in that participants ski on groomed trails typically maintained as part of an established facility (Cross Country BC, n.d.).

Spotlight On: Whistler Sport Legacies

Leading up to the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver and Whistler, there was much debate about the need for a continuing legacy from the event. Whistler Sport Legacies is an example of a recreational, tourism, and sport legacy that can emerge out of a mega event such as the Olympics. For more information, visit the Whistler Sport Legacies website:

With more than 50 cross-country ski centres across BC, and a season that often exceeds that of downhill skiing (November to May in many areas), the sport attracts large numbers of local and inbound recreation enthusiasts. Trail networks have been developed in both stand-alone environments, as well as in partnership with large mountain resorts such as Silver Star in Vernon, Sun Peaks in Kamloops, Cypress Mountain above Vancouver, and Rossland in the Kootenays. Many of these trail networks offer both groomed and track-set trails, a number are lit for night skiing.

Spotlight On: Silver Star’s Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre

Located just outside Vernon, Sovereign Lake is Canada’s largest daily groomed trail network that includes 105 kilometres of trails varying from green (easy) to black diamond (most difficult); a further trail expansion is planned for 2015. For more information, visit Sovereign Lake’s website:

Backcountry Skiing and Snowboarding

Backcountry skiing and snowboarding offers a recreational activity in a wilderness setting, away from any established mountain resorts, lifts, or trails. BC is regarded as a world-class destination for backcountry access, and has recently seen considerable and sustained growth in this sector (Porteus, 2013). The motivator for pursuing this activity for most people is primarily the lure of fresh, untracked snow in a beautiful mountain setting. Some backcountry skiers and snowboarders combine this activity with helicopter or snowcat skiing.

Spotlight On: Backcountry Lodges Association of British Columbia

The Backcountry Lodges Association of British Columbia (BLABC) represents backcountry lodges in the province. Its consumer site features a find-a-lodge function, profiles for summer and winter lodges, the ability to check conditions in various backcountry areas, and consumer content including a blog and videos. For more information, visit the Backcountry Lodges Association of BC:

Helicopter skiing transports skiers and snowboarders by helicopter to the backcountry. It is typically a professionally guided activity, with packages ranging in duration from a single day to weeks. The skiing/snowboarding is often packaged with a luxury lodge accommodation, gourmet meals, and access to spa treatments.

Heliskiing was pioneered in Canada by Swiss mountain guide Hans Gmoser, who founded the company Canadian Mountain Holidays, which has grown to be the largest heliskiing company in the world (Canadian Mountain Holidays, n.d.).  Today, there are close to 20 helicopter skiing companies in BC, which represents the largest concentration of commercial operations in the world (HeliCat Canada, n.d.).

Snowcat skiing is alpine skiing accessed by travelling to the top of the ski area in a snowcat (an enclosed cab vehicle on tracks). As with heliskiing, this activity also has its commercial roots in BC. Snowcat skiing was pioneered in 1975 by Selkirk Wilderness Skiing as an alternative to both lift-serviced and helicopter-accessed riding and skiing (Selkirk Wilderness Skiing, n.d.).  It is typically a guided activity due to the avalanche risk associated with the terrain. As with heliskiing, snowcat skiers have the option of choosing single-day or multi-day vacation packages. During the winter of 2015, there were 11 established snowcat skiing operations in BC (HeliCat Canada, n.d.).

Spotlight On: Avalanche Canada

This organization provides public avalanche forecasts and education for any backcountry travellers venturing into avalanche terrain. This vital service is provided to the public free of charge, as Avalanche Canada is a not-for-profit society dedicated to a vision of eliminating avalanche injuries and fatalities in Canada. In addition to the website, it provides training programs and shares safety best practice. For more information, visit Avalance Canada:

Guides for these operations are typically certified by either the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) or the Canadian Ski Guide Association (CSGA).  Both organizations assess the guides for their expertise in technical skills, avalanche forecasting, risk management and emergency response before issuing certification. The process is extensive and rigorous, taking much time and commitment for guides to become fully certified.

Spotlight On: HeliCat Canada  

Based in Revelstoke, BC, HeliCat Canada is an industry organization that represents heliskiing and snowcat skiing operators in Canada.  It provides regulation, advocacy, and marketing for the operators. Since 1978, the organization has worked closely with government and industry to develop operations guidelines. For more information, visit Helicat Canada:

Off-Road Recreational Vehicles

An off-road recreational vehicle (ORV) is any vehicle designed to be driven off road that is not included within any other vehicle classification framework. This includes snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), and dirt bikes (British Columbia Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, 2014). ORV use is recognized as a considerable contributor to the BC economy, owing primarily to recreational users, but also from tourist visits.

I line of snowmobiles.
Figure 5.4 Snowmobiles ready for their riders near Golden, BC

Recreational snowmobiling in BC is represented by the British Columbia Snowmobile Federation (BCSF). The BCSF’s mandate is to represent recreational snowmobile clubs through advocacy, education, and stewardship (BCSF, n.d.). Commercial snowmobiling is represented by the British Columbia Commercial Snowmobile Operators Association (BCCSOA), a group of snowmobile tour operators who have mobilized to support marketing, product development, and government advocacy initiatives (BCCSOA, n.d.).

ORV use has long been the subject of conflict between non-motorized and motorized recreational users of the wilderness. Non-motorized users claim that motorized users negatively impact the wilderness through noise pollution and environmental damage by degrading trails and scaring wildlife (Webster, 2013).  Recently, wilderness tourism operators who hold Crown land tenure to operate in remote areas have complained that ORVs negatively affect their visitors’ experiences. Some of these conflicts may now be mitigated through the implementation of the Off-Road Vehicle Act, which was passed in 2014.  This Act requires mandatory registration of ORVs, and includes elements that promote safety, enforcement of regulations, education, and outreach (British Columbia Ministry Forest, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, 2014).

Guest Ranchers and Hunting Outfitters

Guest and Dude Ranches

Guest ranches and dude ranches offer personal and home-like vacation experiences centered on horseback riding and an authentic ranch experience. These operators typically offer accommodation in a ranch-type environment, and include as part of the experience the opportunity to participate in ranch activities such as horse riding and cattle wrangling. Other services and activities may also be available, such as spa treatments, hiking, canoeing, and fishing (BC Guest Ranchers Association, n.d.).

Spotlight On: The British Columbia Guest Ranchers Association

The British Columbia Guest Ranchers Association (BCGRA) represents guest and dude ranch operators in the province. It serves and represents its members through cooperative marketing, advertising, development of operational standards, and member pricing on liability insurance plans (BCGRA, n.d.). For more information, visit the British Columbia Guest Ranchers Association website:

A 2011 study of guest ranches by Tourism BC found that there were 57 operating ranches in the province. Most of these were small operations with one to five employees and serving fewer than 1,000 clients per year (Tourism BC, 2011a). There are also large operations such as the Hills Health Guest Ranch located near 100 Mile House, which can accommodate hundreds of guests at one time. The ranch features a full on-site spa and two dining rooms, and hosts a multitude of special events each year. Two other examples of unique guest ranch operations are the Siwash Lake Ranch in south-central BC, a “high-end” exclusive resort featuring executive-chef prepared meals, and the Echo Valley Ranch and Spa in the BC interior, offering an alternative therapy spa and gold-panning excursions.

Hunting Outfitters

Hunting is a traditional recreational activity in BC, and it is also one of the original tourism products in the province (GOABC, n.d.). BC is fortunate to have a vast amount of wilderness available for hunting activities.  The exact size of the hunting market is difficult to quantify, but in 2003, a study found that 5,000 non-resident hunting licences were sold in BC, contributing $46 million to the provincial economy (CTC, 2012).

Some people choose self-guided hunting activities, but to hunt certain species, a guide outfitter must be hired. Guide outfitters are licensed by the BC Government to provide commercial hunting services for non-residents. This commercial hunt service directly employs more than 2,000 BC residents and generates approximately $116 million in economic activity annually (GOABC, n.d.). Many of these outfitters are small family operations  based in rural areas; they are a source valuable economic activity in areas with limited resources (GOABC, n.d.).

Spotlight On: Guide Outfitters Association of BC

Guide Outfitters Association of BC (GOABC) was established in 1966 to promote and preserve the interests of guide outfitters who take hunters out into wildlife habitat. GOABC is also the publisher of Mountain Hunter magazine. Its website outlines a code of conduct and standards for guide outfitters as well as a wildlife DNA collection program to help provide insight into animal populations. For more information, visit the Guide Outfitters Association of BC website:


Cycling is a popular recreational activity in BC thanks to a variety of terrain, spectacular scenery, and favourable weather conditions, with approximately 44% of residents participating each year (Tourism BC, 2013). Cycling also attracts out-of-province visitors. One study from 2008 reported that out of 5.6 million Canadians who travelled to BC over a two-year period, almost one million (17%) had participated in a cycling activity (Tourism BC, 2009).

Spotlight On: Cycling Destinations

Several BC destinations have developed cycling as a key tourism product. For example, the Salt Spring Island group Island Pathways helped make the island more bike-friendly in recent years by installing bike racks, developing a map with bike routes, encouraging local transportation to accommodate bikes, and establishing local bike rentals and service. For more information, visit Salt Spring Island Cycling:

Another great example of cycling tourism is the Kettle Valley Railway in the Okanagan, built on an abandoned railbed. This 600-kilometre trail network includes a multitude of tunnels and trestles, and is most often travelled by cycling. Sections of the trail system are also now included in the Trans Canada Trail. For more information, visit the Kettle Valley Railway website:

Cycling can be generalized into two styles: road cycling and mountain biking.

Road cycling appeals to those who want to travel on paved roads on bikes designed for travelling long distances efficiently and effectively. Road cycling may refer to racing, both recreational and professional, or cycle touring, where cyclists travel by bike on single- or multi-day trips. Given the multitude of rolling hills, mountain passes, and stunning vistas, BC is regarded as a premier cycle touring destination (Destination BC, 2014b).

A line of bikers heading down a highway.
Figure 5.5 Cyclists in action

Mountain biking generally involves riding on unpaved routes and trails either specially designed for biking or for multipurpose use. BC’s reputation as a prime mountain biking destination has grown because of the unique array of trails available, ranging from the steep, challenging routes of Vancouver’s North Shore, to the high alpine cross-country routes found in the South Chilcotin Mountains (Tourism BC, 2011b).

Take a Closer Look: Mountain Bike Tourism

The report Tourism Essentials Guide: Mountain Bike Tourism is a valuable resource for operators or communities seeking to develop or promote mountain biking tourism in their area. It can be found at Tourism Essentials Guide: Mountain Bike Tourism [PDF]:

Over the years, mountain biking has grown from being a fringe activity to a mainstay of the tourism economy. In fact, the growth potential of mountain biking is so highly regarded that the BC Government now considers it as one of the top growth areas in the outdoor adventure sector (Tourism BC, 2011b).

Indeed, numerous mountain winter resorts such as Whistler Blackcomb, Silverstar, and Kicking Horse have developed mountain biking trail infrastructure and lift-accessed biking to provide off-season activities. World-class mountain biking races such as the Test of Metal and the BC Bike Race bring thousands of riders through small communities for mountain biking. The economic impact of these events is significant. Over the course of a single four-month season in the Sea-to-Sky Corridor in 2006 (including the communities of North Vancouver, Squamish, and Whistler), the economic contribution of mountain biking to local economies was $10.3 million (Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association, 2006).

Spotlight On: Test of Metal and GranFondo 

Two major bike races bring significant visitors to the Sea-to-Sky Corridor.  The Test of Metal, held in Squamish, has sold out every year since 1998, and brings upward of 1,000 mountain bikers into the area for a one-day event each June. For more information, visit The Test of Metal: The GranFondo Whistler is a road biking race from Vancouver to Whistler that now attracts upward of 7,000 participants each year. For more information, visit The GranFondo:

Spotlight On: Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association

Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association (MBTA) is a not-for-profit organization working toward establishing BC, and Western Canada, as the world’s foremost mountain bike tourism destination. It has hosted a symposium on mountain bike tourism and works with Bike Parks BC to ensure terrain development. For more information, visit the Mountain Bike Tourism Association website:

Camping and Hiking

In 2012, over 19.3 million people visited BC provincial parks, including 16.8 million day visitors, many of whom used the parks for hiking and exploration in addition to picnics, swimming, and other outdoor activities. Of these visitors, 2.3 million were overnight campers, generating $15.5 million in user fees, with an average guest satisfaction rating of 82% (BC Parks, 2012). As discussed in Chapter 3, there are also a number of private camping providers in the province.

Wildlife Viewing

Given the diversity and richness of our natural environment, it is not surprising that there is a thriving wildlife viewing industry in BC. This includes whale, bird, and bear watching as well as travelling to view the northern lights or alpine flowers (CTC, 2007). One study conducted by the Canadian Tourism Commission established that within BC, approximately 37% of tourists took part in wildlife viewing while visiting. Significantly, for 13% of visitors, the primary motivation for their travel to BC was wildlife viewing (CTC, 2007).

Spotlight On: Wilderness Tourism Association of British Columbia

The Wilderness Tourism Association of British Columbia (WTA) provides industry support and advocacy for those operators offering nature-based tourism products. For more information, visit the Wilderness Tourism Association of BC website:

Whale watching occurs along the coast of BC, with tours sometimes leaving from major urban centres, but more commonly from smaller communities such as Telegraph Cove on northern Vancouver Island. Tours are typically by boat, on vessels ranging from open, 10-passenger Zodiacs, to comfortable cabin cruisers with inside seating. The most commonly observed whale is the orca, one of the province’s most distinctive animals. Other whales like the humpback, minke, and Pacific grey are also frequently encountered. The province’s vast diversity of marine life is a key attraction of the tours; in addition to whale watching, a typical tour may encounter bald eagles, sea lions, porpoises, and a variety of sea birds (Destination BC, 2014,d).

Take a Closer Look: Mammal Viewing Guidelines

Marine mammal viewing in Canada has grown in popularity to the point where the federal government has established marine wildlife viewing guidelines. These establish parameters such as safe viewing distances and time limits. For more information, visit the marine wildlife viewing guidelines:

Bear viewing — whether for black bears, grizzly bears, or the rare kermode bear — is also popular. Black bears are common across all regions of BC. Grizzly bears are more likely to be found in remote and mountainous regions; they have an estimated population in the province of approximately 16,000. Kermode bears, also called spirit bears, are a subspecies of black bears with a genetic trait that produces white fur instead of black. They are found primarily in the Great Bear Rainforest of the Central Coast, and figure prominently in the spiritual traditions of BC’s Coastal First Nations. The spirit bear is also BC’s official animal (Destination BC, 2014a).

A bear walking along the edge of a river.
Figure 5.6 A bear in Bute Inlet, BC

Tourism operators that offer bear viewing typically operate in remote regions of BC. They may utilize raised viewing areas or operate from a boat-based platform, and offer accommodation at night. The season is typically limited to May through October, with the highest chances of viewing success during the salmon spawning season in the fall.

Spotlight On: Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC

Bear viewing is a complex activity with potential for physical risk to visitors and impacts to the bears. The Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC (CBVA) sets standards for operators offering bear viewing. For more information, visit the Commercial Bear Viewing Association website:

Now that we’ve explored some of the key land-based tourism and recreational experiences in BC, let’s turn to the water.

Water-Based Recreation and Tourism

Water-based recreation and tourism in BC is extensive and varied. The coastline of more than 25,000 kilometres in length provides ideal opportunities for recreation and tourism (BC Adventure, n.d.).  Activities include scuba diving, boat tours, sport fishing, paddle sports, and more. Following is an overview of a few core water-based activities offered by BC tourism operators, as well as a brief description of their economic contributions and related industry organizations.

Figure 5.7 Kayakers waiting near whitewater rapids

Scuba Diving

BC waters offer scuba divers a rich diversity of marine life such as giant Pacific octopuses, wolf eels, sixgill sharks, soft corals, and cloud sponges. As well, a variety of dive sites are available, including marine parks, protected natural areas, sunken naval vessels, artificial reefs, historic wrecks, and even a submerged fuselage of a Boeing 737 airliner (Dive Industry Association of BC, n.d.).

A 2004 study conducted by the Dive Industry Association of BC found that the dive industry in BC consisted of 116 operators offering services to tourists and residents alike. The many segments of the industry include manufacturers, distributers, dive charters, dive shops, and instructional centres. The study estimated that gross revenues from this industry at $15 million, although this number failed to account for other indirect spending such as trip-related accommodation and transportation. It is likely that the actual economic value of this subsector is actually significantly larger (Ivanova, 2004).

Spotlight On: Dive Industry Association of British Columbia

Established in 2002, the Dive Industry Association of British Columbia (DIABC) is a not-for-profit that represents and supports the recreational diving industry in BC. Funded in part by matching donations from Destination BC, their diverse membership includes dive shops, tour operators, and individual dive guides. For more information, visit the Dive Industry Association of BC:

Sport Fishing and Lodges

There is a long and rich history of sport fishing in BC. Anglers are drawn to the province’s tidal waters (for salmon and halibut) and to freshwater rivers and lakes (for trout, steelhead, and sturgeon). The annual rate of recreational participation is significant; a 2009 study estimated that there are nearly 600,000 anglers (either fresh or saltwater) in any given year in BC (Tourism BC, 2009). Furthermore, non-resident anglers contributed almost $6 million by way of licensing fees, and an additional $46 million in non-fishing expenditures to the economy of BC. The British Columbia Fishing Resorts and Outfitters Association (BCFROA) represents commercial freshwater resorts and outfitters and delivers advocacy, conservation, and marketing efforts on behalf of its members (BCFROA, n.d.).

Paddle Sports

River rafting, canoeing, sea kayaking, and standup paddle boarding (SUP) are common activities for both recreationists and tourists alike in BC.  Collectively, these sports fall under the paddle sports category, which encompasses any activity that takes place in small boats propelled by paddles (Education Scotland, n.d.).  Although all paddle sports are popular recreational activities, two of the more sizable and commercially productive paddle sports subsectors are river rafting and sea kayaking.

River rafting operators can be found on many rivers across BC. Product offerings may range from a three-hour adrenaline-fuelled tour on the famous Fraser River to a 14-day wilderness exploration down the UNESCO World Heritage Tatshenshini-Alsek Rivers in northern BC.  These trips consist primarily of three types of rafting: paddle rafting, motorized rafting, and float trips (Destination BC, n.d.).

Commercial rafting in BC is represented by the British Columbia River Outfitters Association (BCROA), which acts as a regulatory and marketing organization for river rafting in the province. Guides are required to be certified at one of three levels: guide, senior guide, or trip leader.  Each river in BC that is commonly rafted has an extensive set of safety requirements called “provisions” listed by the BCROA. These provisions set out the minimum level of guide required, acceptable water levels ranges, and type of equipment needed for each river excursion (BCROA, n.d.).

Four people kneel on a raft holding paddles and wearing helmets and lifejackets.
Figure 5.8 A rafting trip with Canadian Outback Adventures and Events near Squamish, BC

A 2005 study conducted by Tourism BC identified 59 operators offering river rafting trips in the province. With an average of 5.5 employees, these operations are typically small in comparison to other industry subsectors. Collectively, however, they provided services to 216,000 customers and contributed almost $15 million in gross revenues to the BC economy in 2005. The same study also indicated that up to 75% of participants had travelled to join in the activity, indicating that they can predominantly be classified as adventure tourists (Tourism BC, 2007a).

Sea kayaking in BC has grown into a sizable recreational and commercial industry in recent years. The province is highly regarded internationally for its long coastline punctuated by many inlets and fjords. Kayaking trips may be as short as an afternoon harbour tour, or as long as a seven-day wilderness exploration to the remote regions of Vancouver Island. Noteworthy areas for sea kayakers include Pacific Rim National Park on western Vancouver Island, Johnstone Strait on northern Vancouver Island, and Gwaii Haanas National Park in Haida Gwaii.

A 2005 report entitled British Columbia’s Sea Kayaking Sector identified more than 114 operators offering rentals, instruction, day tours, or multi-day tours.  These operators reported gross revenues of approximately $14 million in 2005 (Tourism BC, 2005a).

Spotlight On: The Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of BC

Commercial operators offering tours are represented by the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of BC (SKGABC), which represents more than 600 individual and company members working in the commercial sea kayaking industry. It provides operating standards, guide certification, advocacy, and government liaison services for its members. For more information, visit the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of BC website:

Trends and Issues

As shown throughout this chapter, recreation, outdoor recreation, and adventure tourism play predominant roles in the tourism and hospitality industry in BC. However, there are challenges that impact the viability of this sector, as well as barriers that limit the growth. These topics are discussed briefly here.

Land Use

Access to wilderness areas for tourism operators is an ongoing challenge. Some zones across the province are set aside for recreation, such as provincial and national parks. However, when it comes to conducting commercial operations in these same places, gaining access often involves an extensive permitting process that may impose restrictions on the type of activity and the number of visitors allowed.

In addition, parks are generally limited to non-motorized activities, thus presenting barriers for tourism operators that seek to offer mechanized recreation. Operators using Crown land for commercial activities also require authorization from the provincial government; in some instances, priority may be given to resource extraction or development. The permitting process can be onerous and time consuming, which for small operators, may be a barrier to growth (Wilderness Tourism Association, 2005).

Environmental issues are discussed in detail in Chapter 10.

Environmental Impacts

A sign listing things that are not allowed like pets, alcohol, baseball, open fires and more.
Figure 5.9 “Absolutely nothing is allowed here”

Environmental impacts from climate change, deforestation, and resource extraction all have significant potential to affect this sector of the tourism economy. On a local scale, competition with resource extraction for wilderness areas is a vital issue; without reliable access to pristine wilderness, many operators are facing threats to their sustainability (Wilderness Tourism Association, 2005).  Indeed, conflicts with the oil and gas industry, forestry, and mining are constant management challenges for wilderness tourism operators. On a global scale, climate change threatens tourism in BC in many ways, including irregular and insufficient snowfall for winter operations, the pine beetle epidemic sweeping through the province’s forests, and climate-related stress impacting prime wildlife viewing of species such as whales and bears. Environmental issues are discussed in detail in Chapter 10: Environmental Stewardship.

Risk Management

Concerns over risk management and litigation are ongoing for any operator that offers activities with an element of risk. When lawsuits in adventure tourism occur, they are often extensively publicized by the media, creating a perception of risky, dangerous, and irresponsible adventure operators. This can negatively affect the sector through rising insurance rates, increasing governmental regulation, challenging certification requirements, and permitting difficulties when interfacing with land management agencies.

With the popularity of backcountry skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and other winter sports on the rise in BC, the number of participants accessing backcountry areas is increasing (Mitsui, 2013). This is becoming a concern for long-time backcountry enthusiasts as well as safety monitors such as Avalanche Canada. As winter and summer backcountry equipment becomes more readily accessible, people are able to equip themselves without having received advanced safety training.

The increase of backcountry users will continue to expose users to possible dangerous situations. The best scenario is to ensure users receive proper training and education before they venture into the backcountry areas.

Other elements of risk and liability are discussed further in Chapter 11.


Despite some of the challenges faced by recreation, outdoor recreation, and adventure tourism, the industry as a whole remains an exciting, dynamic, and growing sector of the BC tourism economy. Employment opportunities abound, and the potential for economic contribution to the province, protection of wilderness areas, and diversification of rural economies away from resource extraction are exciting prospects. BC is uniquely positioned to maintain positive growth in this area, contingent upon government support to address the barriers and challenges listed above. Students looking to develop professionally in this field should strive to gain both hands-on experience in a specialized activity, and a strong tourism focused education; this combination will offer the best chance to open doors to a long-term career in this exciting industry.

Now that we understand the importance of recreation to the tourism industry, especially in BC, let’s explore Chapter 6, which looks at entertainment, the other half of this industry classification.

Key Terms

  • Adventure tourism: outdoor activities with an element of risk, usually somewhat physically challenging and undertaken in natural, undeveloped areas
  • Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG): Canada’s only internationally recognized guiding association, offering a range of certifications
  • Avalanche Canada: a not-for-profit society that provides public avalanche forecasts and education for backcountry travellers venturing into avalanche terrain, dedicated to a vision of eliminating avalanche injuries and fatalities in Canada
  • British Columbia Golf Marketing Alliance: a strategic alliance representing 58 regional and destination golf resorts in BC with the goal of having BC achieve recognition nationally and internationally as a leading golf destination
  • British Columbia Guest Ranchers Association (BCGRA): an organization offering marketing opportunities and development support for BC’s guest ranch operators
  • British Columbia Snowmobile Federation (BCSF): an organization offering snowmobile patrol services, lessons on operations, and advocating for the maintenance of riding areas in BC
  • Canada West Ski Areas Association (CWSAA): founded in 1966 and headquartered in Kelowna, BC, CWSAA represents ski areas and industry suppliers and provides government and media relations as well as safety and risk management expertise to its membership
  • Canadian Ski Guide Association (CSGA): founded in British Columbia, an organization that runs a training institute for professional guides, and a separate non-profit organization representing CSGA guide and operating members
  • Commercial Bear Viewing Association of BC (CBVA): promoters of best practices in sustainable viewing, training, and certification for guides, and advocating for land use practices.
  • Destination mountain resorts: large-scale mountain resorts where the draw is the resort itself; usually the resort offers all services needed in a tourism destination
  • Dive Industry Association of BC: a marketing and advocacy organization protecting the interests of divers, dive shops, guides, dive instructors, and diving destinations in BC
  • Guide Outfitters Association of BC (GOABC): established in 1966 to promote and preserve the interests of guide outfitters, who take hunters out into wildlife habitat; publishers of Mountain Hunter magazine
  • Nature-based tourism: tourism activities where the motivator is immersion in the natural environment; the focus is often on wildlife and wilderness areas
  • Off-road recreational vehicle (ORV): any vehicle designed to travel off of paved roads and on to trails and gravel roads, such as an ATV (all-terrain vehicle) or Jeep
  • Outdoor recreation: recreational activities occurring outside; generally in undeveloped areas
  • Outdoor Recreation Council of BC (ORC): a not-for-profit organization that promotes the benefits of outdoor recreation, represents the community to government and the general public, advocates and educates about responsible land use, provides a forum for exchanging information, and connects different outdoor recreation groups
  • Recreation: activities undertaken for leisure and enjoyment
  • Regional mountain resorts: small resorts where the focus is on outdoor recreation for the local communities; may also draw tourists
  • Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of BC: representing more than 600 members in the commercial sea kayaking industry, providing operating standards, guide certification, advocacy, and government liaison services
  • Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association (MBTA): a not-for-profit organization working toward establishing BC, and Western Canada, as the world’s foremost mountain bike tourism destination
  •  Wilderness Tourism Association (WTA): an organization that advocates for over 850 nature-based tourism operators in BC, placing a priority on protecting natural resources for continued enjoyment by visitors and residents alike


  1. Compare and contrast the terms recreation, outdoor recreation, and adventure tourism. How can we differentiate between each of these terms?
  2. Do you believe that ORV tourism operators should be considered nature-based tourism? Explain.
  3. What is the difference between a regional mountain resort and a destination mountain resort?
  4. Of the smaller subsectors of tourism economy discussed in this chapter, name three that are commonly found in small, rural communities. What is their significance to the local community?
  5. Name a well-known destination for mountain biking in BC. What is the attraction of that area?
  6. Why is backcountry skiing/snowboarding sometimes considered a risky activity? Explain. How can these risks be mitigated?
  7. List three industry organizations described in this chapter that represent outdoor tourism subsectors. What general services do they offer to those they represent?
  8. What unique advantages does BC offer for recreation, outdoor recreation, and adventure tourism?
  9. Review the section Trends and Issues. What suggestions would you give to the BC Government to support tourism in this subsector?

Case Study: The Wind Within

BC has long been romanticized as a destination that is intrinsically linked to recreation and nature; and our tourism product has traditionally relied on outdoor assets and the promotion of recreation.

In late 2014, Destination British Columbia launched a video and set of corresponding marketing materials that sought to expand on the “Super, Natural” brand promise for the province.

Watch the video here: “The Wild Within: British Columbia, Canada”:

On your own or as part of a team, consider the following:

  1. What natural elements are being promoted?
  2. What recreational activities are featured in the video?
  3. Which industry groups or associations are needed to support these activities? Name at least five.
  4. What are the advantages of promoting BC’s natural elements as a pillar of marketing campaigns?
  5. What are the disadvantages? How might these be mitigated?

After answering these questions, come up with a quick design for a marketing piece that profiles one recreational activity in your local community. This could be a webpage, a brochure, an app, a poster, or another marketing piece. Be sure to visit the Destination BC brand website to make sure your ideas fit in with “The Wild Within” concept and brand:


BC Adventure. (n.d.)  BC Adventure Planner.  Retrieved from:

BC Fishing Resorts and Outfitters Association. (n.d.). About BCFROA. Retrieved from:

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BC Parks. (2012). 2011/2012 Statistics Report. [PDF] Retrieved from

British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. (2014). Off-Road Vehicle Act. Retrieved from:

British Columbia Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation. (2012). Gaining the edge: A five-year strategy for tourism in BC. [PDF]  Retrieved from:

British Columbia River Outfitters Association. (n.d.). Provisions. [PDF] Retrieved from

British Columbia Snowmobile Federation (n.d.). About BCSF. Retrieved from:

British Columbia Snowmobile Operators Association. (n.d.). About us – Snowmobile British Columbia. Retrieved from

Canadian Mountain Holidays. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved from:

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Canadian Tourism Commission. (2012). Sport fishing and game hunting in Canada: An assessment on the potential international tourism opportunity. [PDF] Retrieved from:

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Destination BC. (2014a). Bear viewing. Retrieved from:

Destination BC. (2014b). Biking. Retrieved from:

Destination BC. (2014c). Golfing. Retrieved from:

Destination BC. (2014d). Whale watching. Retrieved from:

Destination BC. (n.d.) River rafting British Columbia. Retrieved from

Dive Industry Association of BC. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved from:

Education Scotland. (n.d.). Paddlesports. Retrieved from:

Guide Outfitters Association of BC. (n.d.). Economic contribution. Retrieved from:

HeliCat Canada. (n.d.). Our members. Retrieved from:

Ivanova, I. (2004). Recreational diving in British Columbia survey report. [PDF] Retrieved from:

Mitsui, E. (2013). Popularity of backcountry skiing worries some in industry. CBC News. Retrieved from

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Porteus, S. (March 6, 2013). The growing business of the backcountry. BC Business. Retrieved from:

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Strategic Networks, Inc. (2009). Economic impact for golf in Canada. [PDF] Retrieved from:

Tourism BC. (2005a). British Columbia River Outfitters report. Retrieved from:

Tourism BC. (2005b). Characteristics of commercial nature-based tourism industry in British Columbia [PDF]. Retrieved from:

Tourism BC. (2007a). British Columbia’s sea kayaking sector 2005. [PDF] Retrieved from:,-Dec/British_Columbia_s_Sea_Kayakers_Report_2005-sflb.pdf.aspx

Tourism BC. (2007b). Travel activities and motivations of Canadian residents: An overview. [PDF] Retrieved from:

Tourism BC. (2009a). Fishing product overview. Retrieved from:

Tourism BC. (2009b). Golf sector profile [PDF]. Retrieved from:

Tourism BC. (2009c). Wildlife viewing product overview. [PDF] Retrieved from:

Tourism BC. (2011a). Guest ranchers business survey 2008/2009. [PDF] Retrieved from:,-January/GuestRanchersReport2008_2009.pdf.aspx

Tourism BC. (2011b). Mountain bike tourism guide. Retrieved from:

Tourism BC. (2011c). The value of mountain resorts to the British Columbia economy. [PDF] Retrieved from:

Tourism BC. (2013). 2009/2010 Outdoor recreation study. [PDF] Retrieved from:,-January-2013/Outdoor-Recreation-for-Distribution-14Jan13-FINAL-DRAFT-(2).pdf.aspx

Tribe, J. (2011). The economics of recreation, leisure, and tourism. 4th Edition. Oxford, England: Elsevier.

United Nations World Tourism Organization. (2014). Global report on adventure tourism. Retrieved from:

Webster, D. (2013). Adventure tourism operators and snowmobiles: Managing interactions. [PDF] Retrieved from:

Western Canada Mountain Bike Tourism Association. (2006). Sea-to-sky mountain biking economic impact study. [PDF] Retrieved from:

Wilderness Tourism Association. (2005). Characteristics of the commercial nature-based Tourism industry in British Columbia. [PDF] Retrieved from


Figure 5.1  Up and over by Ruth Hartnup is used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Figure 5.2 Row Your Boat by Matt Hosford is used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Figure 5.3 Blackcomb by Jeff Wilcox is used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Figure 5.4 Snowmobiling by Shazron is used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Figure 5.5 Cyclists by Jason Sager is used under a CC-BY-SA 2.0 license.

Figure 5.6 A bear in Bute Inlet, BC by John Critchley is used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Figure 5.7 Waiting in line by Ruth Hartnup is used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Figure 5.8 Rafting Adventure in Squamish, BC by Raj Taneja is used under a CC-BY-NC 2.0 license.

Figure 5.9 Absolutely Nothing is Allowed Here by Vicki & Chuck Rogers is used under a CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.


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Introduction to Tourism and Hospitality in BC Copyright © 2015 by Don Webster is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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