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Expert Essay
Voices: Inclusive and Participatory Models for Coastal and Marine Tourism

What tools or mechanisms have been effective in creating opportunities for impactful engagement of stakeholders in the development of coastal and marine tourism? How do these tools or mechanisms need to be tailored to ensure active inclusion of particularly vulnerable or disenfranchised members of the community?

The Honourable Randy Boissonnault
The Honourable Randy Boissonnault
Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance, Canada

Canada is an ocean nation. The global ocean economy is rapidly expanding and transforming, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development forecasting it will more than double in size by 2030. Canada is working to leverage this growth. Our national assets, including the longest coastline in the world, access to three oceans, cutting-edge ocean science and technology innovation, and a strong track record on conservation, provide a strong comparative advantage. Currently Canada’s ocean-based economy generates C$36.1 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) annually, sustains nearly 300,000 jobs and is crucial to the quality of life of the 4.8 million Canadians living in our coastal communities. Canada’s marine sectors, including marine tourism, make significant economic contributions, particularly for rural coastal communities.

Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism in Canada was a high-growth, high-potential industry and was coming off several record-breaking years in terms of revenue and the number of tourists visiting Canada. In 2019, tourism represented 2 percent of Canada’s GDP, 3 percent of total exports and 4 percent of all jobs. Tourism is a uniquely inclusive industry. Comprised mostly of small and medium-sized businesses, it employs a higher proportion of youth, women, LGBTQ2 individuals, and racialised and Indigenous persons compared to their share of the workforce. The industry is also a significant source of employment for newcomers to Canada; in 2019, 28 percent of tourism employees were immigrants or non-permanent residents. Tourism is important in every region of Canada, including large and small cities, rural and remote areas, Indigenous communities, coastal communities and in the North.

Coastal and marine tourism offerings contribute significantly to the industry, as they attract domestic and international travellers with destination-specific activities such as whale watching, recreational fishing, scuba diving and Arctic cruises. The cruise industry alone is a significant driver of the tourism industry and an important part of the Canadian economy, particularly in coastal communities. In 2019, the cruise industry generated over $4 billion in economic output and supported over 30,000 jobs.

COVID-19 hit our tourism industry hard. The Government of Canada is working with communities across Canada to support the industry’s recovery. The tourism and hospitality sector received an estimated $23 billion in support through the federal government’s emergency programmes. Budget 2021 provided $1 billion over three years to the tourism sector, including in the following areas:

  • $500 million for the Tourism Relief Fund, which provides support to rural tourism projects all across the country, including coastal communities. This includes $50 million designated specifically to Indigenous tourism.
  • $200 million to support Canada’s major festivals and events.
  • $200 million to support local festivals and events.
  • $100 million to Destination Canada for marketing campaigns to promote Canadian travel destinations.

To support the ongoing recovery, the Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that Canada remains recognised as a safe destination of choice. Canada’s strong vaccination levels, along with continued promotion of public health measures by the people of Canada, standardised proof of vaccination and digital collection of traveller information through ArriveCAN, have ensured that Canada remains a safe and secure place to visit.

In addition, Canada continues to prioritise the growth of the blue economy to create opportunities for freshwater and ocean sectors and coastal communities. As an ocean nation, Canada can support its tourism recovery by leveraging and developing characteristics in coastal communities, including but not limited to our ocean, to draw both domestic and international travellers. The exposure and expansion of ocean-based tourism will support the growth of the visitor economy on all three of Canada’s coasts and create more jobs, opportunities and economic well-being in coastal and Indigenous communities. 

The Federal Tourism Growth Strategy

On 21 May 2019, the Government of Canada announced the first Federal Tourism Growth Strategy (FTGS), with the objective of leveraging tourism to drive economic growth and create jobs throughout the country. The strategy prioritised rural and remote tourism in order to drive new economic opportunities in those regions, and to open tourists to more of Canada’s breathtaking natural beauty. In fact, a pillar of the FTGS was ‘to Build Tourism in Canada’s Communities’, including in rural and remote communities. To help achieve this, a $58.5 million Canadian Experiences Fund (CEF) was established to invest in tourism products related to winter and shoulder seasons, rural and remote tourism, Indigenous tourism, inclusiveness (especially for LGBTQ2 communities) and culinary tourism.

To inform development of the strategy, the Government of Canada conducted considerable engagement with diverse stakeholders across Canada, including many coastal communities. In 2018, the government launched a week-long, cross-country tour to meet with local tourism stakeholders through a series of roundtables. The meetings convened industry associations (e.g. Indigenous Tourism BC), culinary organisations (e.g., Ocean Wise), diverse community organisations (e.g. Vancouver Pride Society), Indigenous organisations (e.g. Kivalliq Inuit Association), tourism operators (e.g. tours, farms, festivals), universities, local governments, Crown corporations, transportation authorities and more. Dispersed throughout Canada, the roundtables were held in Winnipeg and Churchill, Manitoba; Rankin Inlet, Nunavut; and Vancouver, Kelowna and Victoria, British Columbia.

On 18 May 2022, Canada launched the consultation process to renew the Federal Tourism Growth Strategy to continue supporting Canada’s tourism industry, following the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government of Canada will work with tourism businesses, provincial and territorial counterparts, and Indigenous tourism partners to renew the strategy with a new post-pandemic lens. As part of these efforts, and to ensure that Indigenous businesses are part of the recovery, the 2022 budget proposes to provide $20 million over two years to support a new Indigenous Tourism Fund to help the Indigenous tourism industry recover from the pandemic and position itself for long-term, sustainable growth. The budget also proposes to provide $4.8 million over two years to the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada to support its operations, which continue to help the Indigenous tourism industry rebuild and recover from the pandemic. The government’s review and adjustments to travel restrictions and public health measures complement these efforts and will further support the growth of Canada’s tourism economy.

The renewal of the Federal Tourism Growth Strategy will address a range of themes related to the sector’s recovery and growth: investment attraction and destination development; opportunities for growing the Indigenous tourism sector; growth in rural and remote communities; sports tourism; culinary tourism; labour and workforce outlooks; and cultural and community-based tourism. For instance, engagement will include stakeholders in rural areas to discuss their particular challenges when engaging in the tourism economy, as well as with representatives of Indigenous tourism businesses who are working to drive economic prosperity for their communities, as well as showcase authentic experiences for visitors to Canada. The government will also engage cultural communities to discuss the benefits that Canada’s rich diversity brings to the tourism sector. Throughout this engagement process, the government will ensure that voices from every region of the country are heard.

Canada’s Blue Economy

The Government of Canada is working to develop the blue economy with a whole-of-government approach that will help to grow Canada’s ocean and freshwater economy and support the long-term, sustainable growth of Canada’s fish and seafood sector; position Canada to succeed in fast-growing sectors of the blue economy such as ocean technology; advance reconciliation, restoration, conservation and climate objectives; and ensure that Canada’s coastal communities thrive.

In the 2021 MIT Technology Review Blue Technology Barometer report, Canada ranked 10th among the world’s nations and performed particularly well in the category of ocean environment in carbon reduction[1]. Canada will continue to advance this work, especially in the area of inclusion, as it grows its blue economy and builds on the work of the Federal Tourism Growth Strategy with its focus on rural coastal communities and working with and hearing from a diversity of perspectives.

To inform the development of the blue economy and to hear from traditionally under-represented voices, the Government of Canada engaged with key stakeholders from February to June 2021 through 40 roundtables, coupled with targeted sector and regional engagement. The process connected with over 1,600 participants, of which 233 identified as Indigenous persons and 318 identified as women. On 11 March 2022, the government released a ‘What We Heard’ document that catalogued input and commentary from all participants, including provincial, territorial and Indigenous partners, private sector, non-governmental organisations and academia. For example, Canada’s Ocean Supercluster was able to gather feedback from roundtables on inclusivity issues, such as ‘Women in the Blue Economy’. Collaborations, partnerships and networking were strongly supported throughout the engagement as a means to respect Indigenous knowledge and ensure accessibility to non-proprietary knowledge and data.

This engagement process identified three key ways that the blue economy could foster more prosperity and inclusion in Canada’s ocean sectors, including advancing the participation of Indigenous peoples; identifying and addressing barriers to inclusive growth; and developing the necessary labour force and skills. Additionally, stakeholders indicated the importance of regional equity to ensure equitable representation in the broad distribution of the benefits of Canada’s blue economy. To better understand these regional nuances and the implementation of place-based solutions, the government held roundtables in specific regions.

Mechanisms for increasing participation of under-represented groups in the blue economy

Full engagement of  under-represented Canadians in traditional and emerging ocean industries still fact obstacles, such as unwelcoming or biased environments, lack of awareness of opportunities, or clear educational and employment pathways.

Canada is currently providing various programmes to increase the participation of under-represented groups in the ocean economy. For example, Canada’s Ocean Supercluster is an industry-led cluster model driving cross-sectoral collaboration, accelerating innovation and growing Canada’s ocean economy with funding from both industry and the Government of Canada. The Ocean Supercluster is supporting under-represented groups through initiatives such the Indigenous Career Pivot Project—a programme to facilitate and support meaningful work placements for Indigenous peoples wishing to explore career options in the ocean economy by supporting their employment for 12 months with an Ocean Supercluster member company, with a focus on creating permanent full-time positions.

Additionally, the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship (COVE), located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a hub for ocean-related companies to conduct research and development, create new products, access marine sensing and monitoring equipment for testing, and nurture start-ups through the Start Up Yard. COVE provides an internship programme for project-based, work-integrated learning, with a focus on growing workforce diversity and accelerating growth and innovation by introducing new entrants with diverse perspectives, education and experience to the sector.

Canada’s regional development agencies (RDAs) are charged with promoting economic development across the country through established regional relationships. RDAs’ existing mandates and programmes directly support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Indigenous groups and other organisations investing in technology, business growth initiatives, sustainable practices and capacity building, helping them to create good jobs and seize the tremendous opportunities of the global blue economy. For example, the RDAs delivered the Canadian Experiences Fund—a two-year investment in 2019–20 and 2020–21 to support communities across Canada as they created, improved or enhanced tourism products, facilities and experiences. The CEF focused investments in five areas: winter and shoulder season tourism, rural and remote tourism, Indigenous tourism, diversity and inclusion, and culinary experiences. Currently, the RDAs are delivering the two-year $500 million Tourism Relief Fund. These investments have spanned blue economy sectors, including marine tourism and recreation, and are tailored to the specific needs and realities of SMEs and communities in each Canadian region, informed by a deep well of expertise acquired over years of working with local businesses, organisations and the networks they represent. By leveraging RDA knowledge of regional ocean sector priorities, networks with key local ocean stakeholders such as Indigenous groups, and experience in supporting ocean sectors, the RDAs work to address regional challenges and foster further opportunities.


A number of themes recur in the process of engaging stakeholders on growing Canada’s blue economy. These include the need to leverage the potential of coastal communities, such as coastal and marine tourism attractions, harbours and other marine services; the need to take a place-based approach to developing the blue economy; the critical role of government funding and financing; the importance of developing an inclusive labour force; rural economic development; and investing in foundational infrastructure such as community wharves and broadband infrastructure. These themes align with existing federal priorities to grow Canada’s tourism economy inclusively, including promoting diverse and authentic Indigenous tourism experiences, leveraging rural and remote areas to draw in tourists, and developing culinary and sea-to-table experiences.

The visitor economy is central to Canada’s full economic recovery from the global pandemic. Coastal and marine tourism will help drive future growth in this critical sector. Canada has what the world wants in blue ocean tourism. By working with diverse partners and learning from our international colleagues, we will position Canada for responsible and sustainable growth of its ocean tourism economy.


[1] MIT Technology Review, “The Blue Technology Barometer,” November 2021, https://www.technologyreview.com/2022/01/05/1040367/the-blue-technology-barometer/.

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