Tourists walk on the cruise ship dock towards Haines' Fort Seward. (Emily Files)

Tourists walk on the cruise ship dock towards Haines’ Fort Seward. (Emily Files)

The Haines Convention and Visitors Bureau is carrying out an assessment of the local tourism industry to see how it can grow without undermining the quality of life of the community. 

The word ‘sustainable’ often conjures images of organic farms, tote bags and hybrid cars. But when Haines tourism director Carolann Wooton talks about sustainable tourism, she’s talking about creating an industry that lasts. 

“A vibrant tourism industry but also in doing that taking into account the impact of that industry on the community itself. The social, environmental, infrastructure, the things that are affected when we have an influx of visitors,” Wooton says.

This year Wooton says there has been a noticeable bump in the number of visitors to Haines. She says this raises questions about how the town can continue to meet the needs of cruise ship passengers and visitors from the Yukon. 

“Do we have the ability to handle the amount of water they’re requesting? Solid waste management for the ships themselves, can we handle that? Having a lot of traffic on the roads. Internet. Is our internet infrastructure strong enough to handle the people that are coming?” Wooton says.

However, having the capacity to handle high-traffic tourism doesn’t necessarily make it sustainable. In order to have a thriving tourist industry, residents must be on board. 

Wooton says she doesn’t want Haines to suffer a similar fate as high traffic tourist destinations such as Venice.

“Where they’re just so overrun with visitors that the local community feels like their quality of life has been completely diminished and it’s no longer what they want,” Wooton says.

According to Wooton, when locals are fed up with tourism it’s bad for business too. 

“Because the truth of the matter is once our residents start having a negative experience with visitors, it’s going to bleed over into our visitors,” Wooton says. “In tourism, we’re always talking about how do we have the best visitor experience we can have. The best way to do that is to make sure it is good for the residents.”

Recently Wooton has been reaching out to local stakeholders to help carry out an assessment of the local tourist industry to see how it can be made more sustainable for the community. 

She says she wants to hear from a variety of perspectives.

“I did not strive to have people in the group who are just industry experts. To have a diverse group, and even having people who don’t necessarily have a good feeling about the visitor industry. You’ve got to be willing to have the hard conversation.”

After some initial strategic planning they will be seeking feedback from the community. Wooton says the assessment will help guide her efforts to promote tourism in Haines but can also be incorporated into the work of other borough departments and the borough’s comprehensive plan. 

“It’s my goal in the end that we’ll have some kind of a document that will be really useful, usable and something we can continue to work off of.”

There is currently no timeline for the assessment.