Wade Davis, others inspire at TEDxWhistler 

Over 50 people listen to talk on tourism and sustainability

The audience was on an inspirational high Thursday afternoon after listening to Wade Davis and others speak about sustainability and tourism at Whistler's inaugural TEDx event.

"The thing this really does is it takes our blinders off and it forces us to go through the exercise of looking at things through a completely objective lens," said Whistler Councillor Chris Quinlan from inside the Whistler Canada House after the event wrapped up.

"One thing that was really demonstrated through all those presentations was the initiatives that are out there are far beyond what we would ever consider viable."

Lisa Griffith, from the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, was equally invigorated.

"I love hearing Wade Davis speak," she beamed. "He has got to be the most eloquent person I have ever heard in my life, so it is always music to my ears to listen to him."

On a local level, Griffith thinks the Sea to Sky corridor really grapples with the question of how tourism can be sustainable - especially when tourism is touted as a solution to economic development problems.

"We have to think about what does that entail and what impact does that have on the planet," she said. "Probably the most inspiring thing I can take away is the whole idea of let's think regionally, let's travel regionally and let's travel responsibly."

And Mark Starkey, who was invited to attend the event after hosting a TEDx event in Vancouver, was also struck by the theme of regional travel.

"I think one of the things that will come out of some of the conversations this evening and on into the weeks to come because of the great work of TEDxWhistler is going to be are we going to become more and more local, and are we going to become more regionally-based with regional tourism," said Starkey.

Starkey said he wants to simmer on the questions of what we are going to do once oil runs out and how that is going to rock our worlds both into and out of place.

Speakers at the four-hour event included Davis, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who discussed, among other things, the different strategies indigenous groups around the world use to promote sustainable living.

Bruce Poon Tip, founder of Gap Adventures, Valerie Langer from ForestEthics and Mark Angelo, chair of the Rivers Institute of BCIT, also made presentations.

"I really would like to suggest that tourism and travel allow us to go places where sustainability already exists," said Davis. "Sustainability is not some kind of anomaly. On the contrary, in most human civilizations, it is the norm."

In Whistler, Davis said it is difficult to define sustainability in a community whose economy is based on discretionary spending by people who visit from far away.

"How do you not take into account that the individuals coming here are engaged in activities that are not sustainable?" posited Davis. "The answer to that is if you can't make an exemplar out of a community with all the assets, where are you going to make an exemplar?"

The four-hour event, hosted by the Whistler Centre for Sustainability, saw more than 50 people contemplate tourism's place in a sustainable world. The event was streamed live at TEDxWhistler.com, with about 10 people also micro-blogging through Twitter.com.

The speakers presented strategies to move towards sustainability. Angelo spoke about the relationship between sustainability and rivers, whereas Poon Tip shared the business model of his private company.

"We are living in a time when the trends are towards unsustainable economies," said Mayor Ken Melamed at a press conference earlier that day. "Today's topic was very carefully chosen to reflect our vision. We need to stay focused on values and principles and we need to ask what a more sustainable resort would look like."

Attendance was by invitation, with participants including Whistler's mayor and councillors, members from key Whistler organizations like Tourism Whistler and Whistler Blackcomb and representatives from neighbouring communities, including Pemberton and Mount Currie.

Thirty people were also invited based on an essay competition held earlier this year.



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