This beautiful place was fought for: Welcome to Načiks (Tofino)

David Archer

12 March 2024

This season of Travel Beyond shows a way forward for any place grappling with climate risks and what it means to host visitors on Indigenous territory. Welcome to Načiks (Tofino).


A visit to Tofino, British Columbia wouldn’t be the highly desired experience it is today – 600,000 visitors arrive every year – without the efforts of many who have fought to protect and restore the natural environment. Millennia-long, Indigenous traditions of stewardship have been guiding that battle. 

This season on the Travel Beyond podcast, we travel to Načiks (Tofino), located on Tla-o-qui-aht lands on the west coast of Vancouver Island in Canada, to learn what opportunities and challenges tourism is bringing to local First Nations and to the settlers coming alongside them as allies. 

It’s a community with deep reverence for nature, where old-growth rainforests meet the rugged Pacific coastline. We learn why everyone here is so passionate about restoration work. Our guests tell us about the War of the Woods, the myth of wilderness, and new projects led by the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations to gain greater benefits from visitation and fund much-needed stewardship actions. The lessons and practical solutions from this season point to positive systemic change.

“This beautiful place was fought for.” – Brad Parsell, CEO at Tourism Tofino

In our first episode, we hear from two locals leading change and opportunities in Indigenous tourism. Moses Martin, Tla-o-qui-aht Elder, tourism operator, and former elected Chief of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, shares what it was like to take part in logging blockades protecting the old-growth forests of Meares Island, and how that action upheld the principles of respect and stewardship he inherited from his ancestors. 

Tofino is coming out of a difficult tourism season that underscores the need for environmental care. In June 2023, Tofino’s only highway access was closed for 17 days due to wildfire. On the podcast, Tourism Tofino’s chief executive, Brad Parsell, recalls the actions taken to support the tourism industry through the crisis and offers advice for other destinations. “There’s a very huge role and a lot of responsibility riding on tourism agencies to get at emergency messaging in a crisis like that,” says Brad. 



In this episode of Travel Beyond, you’ll learn about:

  • Tofino’s 17-day closure due to wildfires, its impact, and the community’s response.
  • Advice from Tourism Tofino for other destinations facing climate risks.
  • The War of the Woods and the 1980s Indigenous-led protest movement that prevented the logging of Meares Island, a vital ecosystem and a key factor in visitation to Tofino.
  • The opportunities present in Indigenous tourism.
  • Tla-o-qui-aht culture, language, and stewardship efforts sustained over millennia.


Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favourite podcast player to join us on this journey.

With thanks to Tourism Tofino for sponsoring this podcast season, and to the many community members, including leaders and Elders from Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations, for entrusting us with their stories. 

With contributions from Annika Rautiola.


Show notes

Clayoquot Wild – Whale watching and wildlife tours in Tofino, operated by podcast guest Moses Martin.

Tourism Tofino – Tofino’s Destination Management Association.

CBC article on the wildfire from June 2023 – A CBC News article about the wildfire that shut down Tofino’s only highway access. 

Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada 2023-24 Action Plan – This report notes that investment in Indigenous tourism in Canada is rising.

Ahousaht First Nation – One of British Columbia’s First Nations, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island near Tofino. 

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation – One of British Columbia’s First Nations, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island in and near Tofino. 

War of the Woods – Starting in the 1980s, the Nuu-chah-nulth people led Canada’s first major logging blockade to protect old-growth forests, which led to a landmark victory to preserve Meares Island in 1984.


Episode transcript

Brad Parsell: I wish the average visitor really knew about the pre-settler history and the Indigenous context behind what they’re looking at. And this beautiful place was fought for. It doesn’t just exist. There’s been people stewarding this area for thousands and thousands of years.

Moses Martin: Respect is our very first law. If you always base your decisions on that law, there isn’t much that you’re going to do wrong.

David Archer: Hello and welcome to Travel Beyond, where we partner with leading destinations to bring you inspiring solutions to the greatest challenges facing communities and the planet. I’m David Archer, Editorial Manager at Destination Think, and I’m recording from Daajing Giids, British Columbia, which is a village in Haida Gwaii, the territory of the Haida Nation.

Tyler Robinson: And I’m Tyler Robinson, Climate Strategist at Destination Think. I’m recording from Toronto, the traditional territory of many nations, including the Mississauga of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples. On this show, we look at the role of travel and highlight destinations that are global leaders. And we talk to the changemakers who are addressing regenerative travel through action in their communities, often from the bottom up.

David Archer: And we’re actively looking for the best examples of efforts to regenerate economies, communities, and ecosystems, so please do reach out if you have a story to share. You can contact me directly at

Today, we’re embarking on a new season, and it’s one that I’m really excited to share.

We’re going to the west coast, and specifically to the town of Tofino in British Columbia, Canada. The original place name for Tofino’s location is Načiks, and it is located on the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation of the Nuu-chah-nulth Peoples, which is neighbours with several other nations, including the Ahousaht First Nation. And you’ll hear from a few leaders from those two nations in the episodes ahead. Tofino is on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and here’s how Brad Parsell from Tourism Tofino described it when he talked with Rodney.

Brad Parsell: It’s a place at the end of a very long, windy road, almost at the edge of the world on the Pacific Ocean. And, I think stepping onto a beach or stepping into the rainforest in Tofino is transformative. As cheesy as that might sound, it changes people. It certainly changed me and the way I look at things. So yeah, I think it’s cliche after cliche that I’m reaching for, but it’s a really awe-inspiring, transformative place. And I think you come here to connect with something bigger than you.

David Archer: And you can also watch the video trailer we produced about this season to get a better sense of the place and its beauty. You’ll find that on the blog post for this episode at or on our YouTube channel. And Tyler, I know that you’ve spent some time in Tofino. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience there?

Tyler Robinson: Yeah, Tofino is a pretty special place for me. I went to university there, I went to the University of Victoria, and spent time in Tofino throughout my time on the island, often surfing up there whenever I could, when I wasn’t going to school. Or maybe even sometimes when I should have been studying.

And then I also lived in Tofino for a period of time years later. And I guess what keeps me coming back is the connection to the people and then the connection to the environment, particularly spending time in the ocean, like I mentioned, surfing or harvesting food, or even just spending a peaceful evening at the beach.

Tofino is often talked about as a place of transformation, and I guess for me Tofino has often been a catalyst for reflection. Self-reflection, reflection of where we’ve come from or where we’re going. And in a way, that can be a bit of a precursor for transformation. So, in that sense, it’s held a special place in my heart. And I have a lot of happy memories there.

On the flip side, I’ve also noticed certain types of tension during my time in Tofino. And this can come in a number of different forms, whether it’s tension between settlers and First Nations people, between residents and visitors, tensions over space, resources, rights, whatever form it might come in. And now is the time for rebuilding and regrowth, and that’s what I think we’re going to hear about with our guests today.

David Archer: Yeah. I’ve also been to Tofino once or twice, not for very long, but yeah it is, it is a very inspiring place, to stand on those wide beaches and in those forests, and we’ll hear about that in this season, as well as from some Indigenous leaders.

On Travel Beyond thus far, we’ve been able to share some stories from Indigenous leaders from other places along the way. If our listeners are interested, I’m thinking of Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik of the Gwich’in Tribal Council in Inuvik, or Chief Frank Antoine of Bonaparte First Nation in BC, as well as some other Indigenous tourism professionals from Cariboo Chilcotin Coast.

And investment in Indigenous tourism is growing in Canada, according to a report from the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, and you’ll find that link in the show notes.

And so, Tyler, I was wondering, across your work with various destination clients, have you noticed Indigenous tourism taking more of a centre stage recently?

Tyler Robinson: Indigenous tourism seems to be growing, and there is a trend of leveraging tourism as a force for reconciliation. I would say that we also have to be careful of not causing more harm while we’re trying to do good. Sometimes we can make the mistake of jumping to reconciliation before attending to the truth of truth and reconciliation.

And we really need to spend time learning about the true history of this nation and sit with the hard truths of why reconciliation is even necessary in the first place.

And all of this starts with relationships, as we’ll hear from our first guest. Relationship building that can’t easily be measured with an economic ROI in many cases. And this takes courage to break out of our current models of thinking and operating.

And then, later in the episode, we’ll hear from Indigenous tourism operator, Elder, and language teacher, Moses Martin, of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. And he’s going to tell us a bit about the War in the Woods and what it took to protect the old-growth forest that so many visitors enjoy today, and how that carries a long lineage going back millennia.

David Archer: And this season’s making me think about the long lineage, especially in light of the climate disruptions we’re seeing happening now.

And as we’ll hear, Tofino has come through a pretty difficult year, tourism-wise, in which their sole highway access was blocked during the busy summer season due to wildfires. It was closed for 17 days, which had impacts, of course, on visitation, but also on local residents and supply chains, and so they’re seeing climate impacts firsthand, like, we’ve noticed in Inuvik and Cariboo Chilcotin Coast.

Before COVID, Tofino had roughly 600,000 visitors every year. And many of those people are used to being able to road trip their way up Vancouver Island, you know, maybe like those University of Victoria students, that you know Tyler, but, can you talk a little bit about the risks that destinations are facing these days and how Tofino’s story connects there?

Tyler Robinson: Yeah, the increase in climate-related or amplified events is well documented, as many of our audience will understand. Unfortunately, we’ve noticed that very few destinations around the world actually have an effective crisis management plan in place for when these disasters strike. This is going to be increasingly vital as climate change impacts get worse in the years ahead, and this type of planning is a key component of the adaptation portion of climate action.

David Archer: Yeah, and we’re going to learn about some of that adaptation in the episodes ahead. The season is really about exploring how solutions to tourism’s challenges have grown out of Indigenous stewardship. The stewardship that has protected the environment that draws visitors there in the first place and contributes to all kinds of quality of life and, and essentials like clean drinking water.

We’ll hear from leaders from both the Tla-o-qui-aht and Ahousaht First Nations, who tell us about their connection to the lands and waters and how their traditions of stewardship are carried out today. We’ll learn about programs like the Tribal Parks Allies and the Ahousaht Stewardship Fund that are building coalitions and securing funding for restoration work.

And we’ll learn about why wilderness is a myth and where that idea came from. We’ll also hear from some of the people doing the work locally to restore habitats on the ground. There’s a lot of good stuff ahead this season and a lot we can learn from.

Today we have two guests. Is that right?

Tyler Robinson: We do. Today’s first guest is Brad Parsell, the Executive Director of Tourism Tofino, and he had this conversation with Rodney Payne from Destination Think. Brad tells us why every positive change depends on relationships. And he talks about the implications of climate change that he’s experienced firsthand in his role. And then later in the episode, we’ll hear from Moses Martin of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. But first, here’s Brad.


Brad Parsell: My name is Brad Parsell, and I am the Executive Director of Tourism Tofino.

Rodney Payne: What’s the best way to experience nature in Tofino?

Brad Parsell: For me, I think the best way to experience nature in Tofino is to do it through the people who’ve been here for thousands of years. If you can go with an Indigenous guide or something like that. I’ve had the opportunity since I’ve been here to do a few of those kinds of trips and the experience for me is just so much more richer, connecting the history and the people of this place to what you’re actually seeing and this concept of stewardship over millennia and how that plays out, I think is the coolest way to see nature here, I think.

Rodney Payne: You’ve been here in Tofino in your role for a year.

Brad Parsell: To the day, actually.

Rodney Payne: Oh, congratulations!

Brad Parsell: I rolled in on a U-Haul on the 21st of November last year.

Rodney Payne: Has it changed you?

Brad Parsell: Has the experience of moving to Tofino changed me? A 100 percent, yes. You know, I came from Fernie, another small town in British Columbia that’s tourism-dependent. You could draw a lot of similarities between the two, but the two places couldn’t be more different in some ways. And the people I’ve met here and the experiences I’ve had in the short time I’ve’ been here have already changed my perspective on a lot of things, sure.

Rodney Payne: Where’s your favourite place to spend an afternoon? 

Brad Parsell: I would have to say on Meares Island on the Big Tree Trail. It’s something that my partner and I did when we very first came to Tofino years and years ago as visitors. And it’s something we recreated this summer. And again, knowing the sort of Indigenous history and the specialness of that place. It’s a really powerful place to spend an afternoon. It’s amazing.

Rodney Payne: And why are you worried about climate change?

Brad Parsell: Well, I’m worried about climate change just as a human citizen, as a person as part of this world. But professionally in my career, I think it’s something that, well, it is something we cannot ignore anymore. It’s something that’s playing out in real-time. Frankly, in the year I’ve been in Tofino, it’s something that we’ve had to deal with.

 This isn’t some distant future scenario, this is playing out right here, right now. And we have to start thinking about it very, very seriously as an industry.

Rodney Payne: When you first got here and started in your role, you talked a lot about community relations and bringing residents on board. Can you tell me why you think that’s so important?

Brad Parsell: Yeah, I think it’s hugely important that residents have a voice at the table when it comes to tourism in their community. And it’s something I’ve observed in other places that I’ve lived and over a long period of time. It’s traditionally been a group that’s been somewhat marginalized from the conversation.

You know, it’s very visitor-focused, it’s very member-focused, business-focused but the things that the tourism industry in a small community, especially in a place as small as Tofino does or do not do has a very real impact on the people who live here, not to mention the fact that in Tofino most folks here are connected to the industry in some way, shape, or form. And the majority of the citizens of Tofino make their livelihood through tourism. So, there’s all these kinds of connections. But we don’t operate in a vacuum as a tourism board or as a tourism organization. And I’m very much a believer in open-sourcing ideas.

And I think the residents bring a really interesting perspective to the table. A lot of them are connected to the industry. And, it’s also that social license piece as well, right? I mean, if you’re just in a vacuum making all these decisions in an ivory tower that are playing out across the community and you’re not engaging with those folks, then your social license to operate in the community is going to run out pretty quickly.

And so it’s really important to me that we’re not in this siege mentality where it’s us versus them and this whole anti-tourism sentiment. That we’re connected in a meaningful way to the residents of this place.

Rodney Payne: So having had a year to start getting a pulse for the community’s attitudes towards tourism, where would you love Tourism Tofino and tourism in Tofino to be in ten years?

Brad Parsell: Yeah, in ten years I think there’s a lot of work to do in terms of building relationships that perhaps hasn’t had as big an emphasis prior to me getting here. And that’s with residents, it’s with First Nations, it’s with a lot of different groups in the community, so if I fast forward out to ten years, those relationships are really solid, and no matter what we decide to do as a tourism organization or as a destination, it’s all predicated and built on a really healthy and good working relationship with the people who actually live here, and I think that’s hugely important.

Rodney Payne: What have you found to be the most challenging thing in the last year?

Brad Parsell: There’s been a lot of challenges thrown at me in this first year, but I think there’s a few things that I would pull out. There’s a lot of misunderstanding around Tourism Tofino, what it is, what it isn’t, how it’s funded, what it can do with that money, and what the goals are. I don’t think we’ve done a particularly awesome job of articulating that to the community. And so, I think there’s, there’s certainly a big opportunity to do a lot more communication and engagement with the community. We’ve already touched on the challenges of climate change, and we live in one of the rainiest places in Canada out here on the West Coast, yet we’ve had a level-five drought this summer, the most serious drought that we’ve ever faced, which has had all kinds of impacts, including a wildfire that cut off the only highway access to the west coast of Vancouver Island and had huge implications on this summer and beyond.

Is that enough challenges?

There’s a few, but I think definitely, there’s more existential things that are facing our industry. As well as just what we’re doing internally, and I think there’s a lot to do in terms of educating the community on what Tourism Tofino is and what it could be in the future.

Rodney Payne: Tell me about the implications of the wildfire cutting off the road right at the height of your busy season and a drought.

Brad Parsell: Yeah, I mean, first of all, to put it in context, wildfires haven’t historically happened a whole lot on Vancouver Island. Again, we’re one of the rainiest places in Canada. So the drought that we experienced this summer, and I know unprecedented gets thrown around a lot, but it really was. You know, there were a couple of things going on the wildfire when it closed down Highway 4, it was closed for 17 days completely. And that had an immediate impact on our industry and it affected all the metrics you think it would, like hotel occupancy and revenues. But it also had these trickle-down effects on actual people’s lives, the citizens who live here and a lot of folks were laid off due to the uncertainty or at least had very reduced hours in terms of, nobody knew when we were going to be back in business.

We actually had seasonal workers leave the destination and go to other communities, thinking that the summer was kind of over. So when the highway did get back in business, it was a sort of a stop-start. It was open and closed. There were planned closures and unplanned closures.

And, frankly, the industry never really recovered locally. It took us all the way through till September before we started to get back to the sorts of levels of visitation that we would expect to see. So a 17-day closure and it was millions of dollars and people’s jobs, and I think that’s really, frankly, the tip of the iceberg of what destinations are going to start to experience as we see more of these climate-related events.


Rodney Payne: What successes have you seen so far in the destination?

Brad Parsell: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of really, really cool stuff happening in Tofino, and certainly before I got here, I mean, the attention to the environment and the climate and the world around us, I think, is really heightened in a place like Tofino.

I’ve personally never lived in a place that has this concentration of environmental NGOs all operating in the same place, and it’s really, really cool to see. And there’s a lot of really great work going on, to restore salmon habitat from years and decades of logging and things like that. So there’s a lot of really cool success stories.

And then for Tourism Tofino it’s, how do we sort of bring that spirit of conservation and stewardship into the visitor experience? And we’ve had a fairly successful program, in partnership with Surfrider Pacific Rim where visitors can actually participate in beach cleans and leave the place better than they’ve found it. And this has been happening for years now before all these buzzwords of regenerative tourism and things like that. So I think there’s a lot of really, really cool things that have been happening in Tofino, that I can’t take credit for that have just been happening well before I got here.

Rodney Payne: Yeah, it’s a nice foundation.

Brad Parsell: Totally. A hundred percent.

Rodney Payne: What do you wish residents knew about your organization, Tourism Tofino?

Brad Parsell: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think as I’ve indicated, I think there is a lot of misconception amongst some of the community about what Tourism Tofino is and what its mandate is and what it could or should be doing.

 I think for me, when I look at some of our plans for the next few years, and really putting an emphasis on reconciliation through Indigenous tourism, and how we can use tourism as this force that lifts up our community and it has a net positive impact on people.

 There’s a lot of stuff going on in terms of inclusivity and accessibility in the destination. So, I think we’ve come a long way from just pumping out marketing to put heads on beds. I mean, marketing will always have a role to play, but there are a lot of really, really cool initiatives going on that the average person in the community may not necessarily be aware of. And I think it’s incumbent on us to make the effort to talk about those things and engage the community that way.

Rodney Payne: What does reconciliation mean here?

Brad Parsell: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

And, for me, any success I’ve had in my career or through tourism has really been first and foremost around building relationships. And so I think coming into this role, and certainly, I feel very supported by the Board of Directors of Tourism Tofino on this, is they’re business people, they’re action-driven, they want to see results, they want wins on the board, and I think it’s really important that we slow that down and take the time to build those relationships, especially with First Nations, and there’s, many nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island as well as Tla-o-qui-aht whose territory we are in.

So I think, what’s going to be really important for me when I think about reconciliation, nothing happens without having that relationship, that foundation, first and foremost. So it’s putting in that time.

I also think it’s about, you know, there’s a term thrown around, reconcili-action.

And there’s a lot of talk in our industry, and a lot of nice things being said, and a lot of nice sentiment being thrown around. But where does the rubber meet the road, and where’s the actual action behind it? And so when I’m thinking about using something like Indigenous tourism as a tool for reconciliation, I don’t want to assume anything.

I want to make sure that we have really solid relationships, first and foremost, and that we’re walking the walk and not just talking the talk. I guess.

Rodney Payne: What do you wish tourists knew about Tofino?

For me, I think the opportunity that I see laid out in terms of educating visitors is really centering this. I mean, we can all agree that anybody, any visitor that comes here can have their mind blown by the natural beauty of this place. But for me, I wish the average visitor really knew about the pre-settler history and the Indigenous context behind what they’re looking at. And this beautiful place was fought for. It doesn’t just exist. There’s been people stewarding this area for thousands and thousands of years. There’s been millions of dollars spent on court cases and world-famous protests that have happened, primarily led by the Indigenous nations on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

And so I think that’s a really powerful story, and if I have anything to do with it, we’re gonna try to make sure that visitors are aware of that story when they come to Tofino.

Rodney Payne: It’s a very powerful story, I got to hear it firsthand from Moses this morning. When you think about the businesses in the tourism industry, what’s their biggest challenge at the moment?

Brad Parsell: I think the challenge for businesses in Tofino is… there’s a few of them, but I think you can trace them all back to the seasonality of Tofino. And I know this isn’t unique to Tofino per se, but we have a huge volume of visitation in the summer months. And through a lot of effort, we’re starting to disperse that out into spring and fall. But we still have really, really quiet winters in Tofino, being a beach destination.

And so from the business perspective, you’ve got this wild, fluctuating demand. It plays out in everything, but staffing is a big thing, and again, not necessarily unique to Tofino, but you have to almost triple, or quadruple your staff at some points of the year, and then dial that back in other parts of the year, and so that has huge implications around hiring and retention, but also on the housing market, and things like that as well.

I really think the core of what’s challenging to do business here is that seasonal nature, and how can we really put Tofino forward as a winter destination? It’s not a natural thing. People don’t equate beaches and pouring rain in the middle of winter. And I think it is going to be through efforts, like things like Indigenous tourism that’s really going to help us develop winter.

Most of our market, when they think of a winter holiday, they’re thinking of a ski holiday or a sun holiday, so they’re going to Whistler to ski, or they’re going to Mexico to lie on a beach, and we don’t fit into those two paradigms, so how are we going to, both on the supply side and on the marketing demand side, how are we going to address that, and there’s been some huge inroads, I would say, with campaigns around storm watching and surfing and things like that, but I think there’s a lot more work to do there to flatten that out for businesses.

Rodney Payne: How are business priorities changing as they experience some of these extreme environmental events?

Brad Parsell: I mean, it becomes, especially when we see the impacts, on revenues and things from this summer and a climate change-related event. And then extrapolating that forward and expecting that we’re going to see more and more of that, I think that’s taking up a lot of the conversation in the room right now with businesses. And again, I think coming out of the pandemic, the word resilient was quite a buzzword and it was thrown around quite a lot. But I think there’s some real soul-searching in the business community about, how do we make ourselves more sustainable.

And I mean that in every sense of the word. And I think the secret to that is trying to unlock a bit of that seasonality. Instead of having 95 percent occupancy and then down to 30 percent occupancy over the course of a year, could we flatten that out so it’s a little bit more consistent?

Rodney Payne: What do you do in your role and who do you call when your road is cut off by a fire and there’s not enough water in the taps? It’s a really big shift from promoting a destination.

Tell me about that.

Brad Parsell: Yeah, it’s a huge shift, and all of a sudden, for most of this summer, all of our channels online were really relaying highway information. And it felt very different from putting out this really inspiring imagery, and the mandate shifted almost overnight as soon as that highway closed.

We were really lucky to have a really strong working relationship with the district of Tofino, the local government here. And certainly, I worked with the mayor and the CAO very, very closely through this summer, the local Chamber of Commerce and the entire business community. So on a local level, we felt very connected.

And I think those are lessons that were learned through the pandemic as well. I think it’s good to be all on the same page locally. And then, being able to connect into the bigger, you know, so there were provincial agencies, like the Wildfire Service and the Ministry of Transportation that were heavily involved.

And we were connected with them very, very quickly through our MLA and through our MP and things like that. So. It definitely took a village, and it was a lot of meetings, a lot of situational meetings about, where are we at today, and what is the message to visitors, and, you know, there was a detour put in pretty quickly, but it was far from ideal.

It was on private logging roads that were dirt roads, and, so for us it became about, okay, if you plan to come to Tofino, what are the key things that you need to know, in terms of getting here, and I think we learned a lot about crisis communication in the last 12 years, and which is still playing out right now, even though the crisis is very much over and we’re in the winter rainy season, there’s still a lot of work going on behind the scenes.

In fact, I have a meeting tomorrow about crisis communication. I think we have something like 100,000 followers on Instagram, Tourism Tofino, and maybe the district has 2,000. So there’s a very huge role and a lot of responsibility riding on tourism agencies to get out emergency messaging in a crisis like that.

And it’s finding that sweet spot of how we do that in a really effective, compelling way without also damaging the long-term reputation of the destination, which is a balance that’s easier said than done.

Rodney Payne: Do you have any warnings or advice to your counterparts around the world at other destinations based on your experience?

Brad Parsell: I think having some sort of crisis plan on the shelf is not a nice to have, it’s a have-to-have these days. And I think where we were caught flat-footed as Tourism Tofino a little bit this summer, was because we didn’t have that fully fleshed-out plan on the shelf ready to go.

So a lot of decision-making was happening in a really highly stressful time in the moment.

Were they the best decisions? I don’t know, you know, we’re sort of doing a retrospective on that now. But being prepared, and I know it sounds obvious, but having plans in place from high-level messaging to visitors all the way down to just the tactics of it, like what channels are more appropriate to be disseminating that information and things like that.

But I will say to my fellow tourism agencies that this is just the start, I think. And that, you know, we’re going to be called upon more and more and more in the coming years and decades to respond to emergencies and have situations where visitors are trapped in destinations or can’t get to a destination.

I think it’s really, really important that we really nail that communication piece.

Rodney Payne: Do you feel a little more prepared for the next emergency?

Brad Parsell: A little bit. Certainly, we are. And we’re going to have a full, comprehensive 360 crisis comms plan, which again, you can’t do in a vacuum, like you have to work with your local government and other people in the destination. I definitely feel that we’ll be a little bit more prepared for sure.

Rodney Payne: What do you think other destinations can learn from your efforts?

Brad Parsell: Yeah, I think there’s a lot to learn from Tofino. A lot of it is very specific to the people who are here and where we are and things like that.

But I think more broadly, the biggest opportunity facing Tofino right now is this Indigenous tourism piece. And how can we do that in a meaningful way? And I think it helps on all fronts, to really empower Indigenous communities and nations to tell their own story the way they want to tell it.

 And there are certain things that they certainly don’t want to share, but also makes the experience richer, as we talked about for the visitor, if you have the opportunity to see a territory and have a guide that is Indigenous to that territory. It’s a much richer experience. And I find that when I look around the province of British Columbia and Canada that Tofino is really uniquely positioned in terms of just the sheer amount of visitation we have and the kind of destination we are, to really lean into that in a way that perhaps we haven’t to date.

So I think that’s something that I’m really passionate about, trying to find ways to connect, because it’s about a sense of place, that’s why you travel to a destination, and travel at its best is us learning about other cultures and other places and coming away richer for the experience, and I really think there’s just this huge opportunity with Indigenous tourism in Canada, across the board.

Rodney Payne: What do you think that experience can teach visitors?

Brad Parsell: You know, I think it’s funny. I look around and we’ve talked about some of these buzzwords in our industry. Sustainability, regenerative tourism and all these kinds of things. And I think there’s a lot of people thrashing around to try to figure out how we can live more sustainably.

But then you learn about Indigenous culture and Indigenous history and it’s like, we had already figured all that out so I think there’s a lot, you know, and I really love what I’m seeing in the British Columbian context of Indigenous protected and conserved areas as an example of a way where we’re taking a concept like a national park or something like that, but really centering it in that Indigenous stewardship and in that Indigenous lens.

Rodney Payne: One of the things we talk a lot about is responsibility. And when you think about your role guiding the future of tourism here and Tofino’s role as a destination that can teach visitors and teach other places things, what does leadership mean to you?

Brad Parsell: Wow, that’s a great question. I mean, for me personally leadership is all about relationships. Like, every single leader that I’ve admired, whether it’s been in the tourism space or any other space, has really taken the time to get to know both the people that they’re leading, whether that’s within an organization or within a community, but also those external groups, whether it be the visitor, the resident, or other things like that.

So for me, when I think about really great leadership, it’s about taking the time to develop these relationships with people. You can’t be a great leader in a small community without doing that. I believe that pretty strongly. And so it’s been a really important thing to me in the first year of Tofino, and I wish I could do it more, but you know, I also have a job to do.

But as much as possible, trying to take people out for coffee or go out for lunch with people and, and A, understand their perspective and what they think about some of the issues that we’re trying to tackle. But also make it personal and build those relationships. I think that’s really, really powerful.

And I feel a lot of responsibility in a role like this. That if I’m speaking on behalf of a destination or on behalf of a group of people, that I’m intimately connected with those people, and I know those people, and that what I’m saying is in line with the values and the culture of those people.

So, for me, great leadership, it’s all about relationships.

Rodney Payne: How do you think that destination marketing organizations or destination management organizations can lead change?

Brad Parsell: I think, first and foremost, I think it’s just articulating that vision. Hopefully with lots of consultation and engagement with the community, but there needs to be somebody in the space that’s out front, with a bit of a road map, like, this is where we’re going. And trying to make sure that different agencies, different businesses, different players are all, not only just following that, but have really bought into it.

And so I think that really comes down to when you’re creating those plans, that you’re bringing those people along for the ride. And that’s why I think those relationships are so important.

Rodney Payne: How do you think tourism can give back to communities?

Brad Parsell: It’s a really great question and something that we’ve been talking about a lot in Tourism Tofino, is how do we set the stage?

And I love, you know, some of the Indigenous folks that I’ve met and some of the things I’ve read, this whole concept of seven generations out. And thinking about what you’re doing now and how that ripples down seven generations. And so, you know, I think for us and for Tourism Tofino, there’s a lot of opportunity here to really sit down and think about the future and where we’re going, and trying to sort of balance that off with what we’re capable of as a destination and, what are some of the unique challenges that are in our way, you know, we’ve talked about seasonality and being at the end of a very long, windy road and putting all that together and coming up with something that people can really believe in and stand behind.

Rodney Payne: When you think about the travel industry, or at least the way I think about it, is we’re an industry that effectively connects the whole world, and it’s the most affluent and quote-unquote powerful people who get to travel and see different things. What do you think our potential is?

Brad Parsell: As a travel industry?

Rodney Payne: Yeah.

Brad Parsell: There is this sort of idea that, is travel just going to be this thing that only wealthy privileged people can do because that’s definitely not a direction I want to go in, you know, I think the benefits of travel are so rich, depending on where you’re going and what you’re doing.

And we’ve spent a lot of time internally this year as we gear up for this new master planning process, thinking about that in the Tofino context. I’ve alluded to the fact that we have a seasonality problem and summer’s really popular here. Because of those supply and demand forces, rates are kind of crazy in Tofino, on some weekends of the year, and so you know, I’m really challenging our team to think about equity and inclusion and diversity and how we’re able to attract folks. Even the kinds of marketing we do and the kinds of visitor that’s coming to Tofino have changed over time, and so how do we create a safe destination that’s welcoming and inclusive for all, that has offerings for everybody?

 I think that’s going to be one of the big challenges that we look at moving forward.

Rodney Payne: When you look around the world, where do you find inspiration, and where do you see leadership?

Brad Parsell: I’m kind of biased because I was born in New Zealand, but I would definitely point to New Zealand as a country and as people who are operating in the tourism space in a really, really cool way. And I think they’ve struck a really interesting tone with responsible visitor messaging and being able to sort of attract the right people to New Zealand.

But also that elevating of Indigenous culture and you know, I know the history is, is quite different between Canada and Australia and New Zealand in terms of the Indigenous history and settler history.

I had the opportunity of seeing the CEO of New Zealand Māori Tourism speak as a keynote at the International Indigenous Tourism Conference this year.

And I just think there’s so much amazing stuff they’re doing to lift Indigenous voices and to, again, to do that sort of reconcili-action, really walking the walk and not talking the talk. So I definitely take my hat off to New Zealand.

Rodney Payne: And what gives you the most hope for the future?

Brad Parsell: It’s younger people and youth. You know, certainly some of the younger people that I’ve met in this space, and Indigenous youth as well. There’s a real optimism and a real awareness of things that we, or certainly I as a younger person wasn’t necessarily completely plugged into, like the existential threat of climate change or the importance of Indigenous sovereignty or that knowing the, how important it is that multiculturalism and learning from other cultures and places. Like I see that in spades in younger people.

And so, yeah. That gives me hope, that we’re, we’re gonna hand over the reins, over the next couple of decades, to some pretty smart kids who are really engaged in some of these issues. Tourism Tofino recently hosted an exhibition around the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

And there was a lot of high school kids did this really, like, meaningful and beautiful artwork, like poetry and things reflecting on residential schools in Canada. I think the fact that they’re really learning all this stuff and really living and breathing it gives me hope, anyway, for the future.

Rodney Payne: And what do you think it means to be a good ancestor?

Brad Parsell: It’s a great question. I think what it means to, for me, to be a good ancestor is, it’s kind of what I was saying before, like that thinking of seven generations out and you know, like, what are we doing today that is going to set the stage for future generations? And especially in the private sector and in the tourism space, that’s not really sexy work, like people want wins, they want to be able to win an award because they did some amazing thing or they want to cut the ribbon on something, and everything’s very here and now.

And I think there’s a lot of good work that goes on in that space. But, what’s less sexy is thinking about laying the foundation for people to succeed, generations after you. So I think that’s what it means to be a good ancestor.

Rodney Payne: Thank you for having us here, and I’m excited to explore.

Brad Parsell: Yeah, thanks, man. I’m looking forward to it.


David Archer: And that was Brad Parsell, the CEO of Tourism Tofino.

Tyler Robinson: And up next, we’ll hear from Moses Martin of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation to learn a little about the Indigenous history and culture of the area. And he’ll tell us about a protest movement that protected nearby Meares Island from logging in the 1980s. Moses was the Tla-o-qui-aht elected Chief at the time and is a respected Elder of the community today. Here we go.

Moses Martin: My name’s Moses Martin and also, I carry my late father’s traditional name. And, his name was [Tla-o-qui-aht name]. Translated just means that I as an individual will go once to harvest those things that I need and that I cannot abuse my rights and take more than I need.

Rodney Payne: And what do you do here? What is your work and your role?

Moses Martin: Well, I spent my whole life being a commercial fisherman. Now I’m involved in language and also a little bit of tourism over the summer.

Rodney Payne: And what’s your connection to this area?

Moses Martin: Oh boy, I have a lifetime connection. Yeah, I’ve seen many changes over the years, right? And a beautiful place that we call home. So, you know.

Moses Martin: The tribe that I come from, we occupied 103,000 hectares, all the way up to Sudden Pass, right?

And to me, it’s all beautiful because, you know, it’s places that we’ve lived and did our thing and, and harvesting those things that we needed to sustain ourselves with.

Rodney Payne: Can you tell me the name of your business and, a little bit about the experience you offer?

Moses Martin: Uh, the name of our business is Clayoquot Wild and I’m not sure why we named it that, it’s just something that ties us to the place that we live in.

As you can see on the charts, this place is known as Clayoquot Sound. And that’s the non-native translation of the tribe that I come from. We call, our tribe is Tla-o-qui-aht, so non-Native people call it Clayoquot for whatever reason.

Rodney Payne: And what is the experience like for guests on the tour? What do you, what do you take them to see?

Moses Martin: Well, they generally have a very pleasant experience. We’re the second of two First Nations, that offer tours here. One’s a brand new one called Ahous Adventures, just down the road here.

But we’ve been here for over 20 years. And we share a lot of personal experience that I’ve had over the years, and I’m a residential school survivor too as well and that’s part of the story that I tell on our tours. And the environmental awakening that woke me up when I was 10 years old. So, you know, those kind of things. And tourists take a great interest in that.

Rodney Payne: Do you see tourism being able to change people’s perspectives? In the stories?

Moses Martin: I hope so, yeah. I hope so. I mean, a lot of times people walk away having a greater understanding of, especially about our lives, right, in the area. Rodney Payne: Do you have any thoughts on how travel can better benefit Indigenous communities?

Moses Martin: Well, that’s where it’s at today. I mean, most of our people rely on some sort of tourism opportunities here in this area. I mean, we own a resort out at Tin Wis too as well, and a number of people that are involved in tourism.

Rodney Payne: What was it like growing up here?

Moses Martin: Oh boy. It’s been a long time, but it’s kind of a rough start to my own life being a residential school survivor and that was something else. That’s part of the story that we tell on our tours too, ’cause I take ’em right to the place where the old residential school was located and the treatment that we got when I was there and yeah, those kind of stories.

Rodney Payne: And do you find people are quite receptive and, open?

Moses Martin: Yeah, I think so. I don’t want to feel pity from people, right? Just, just to understand the life that I experienced as a young, young child going to a residential school.

Rodney Payne: Do you think tourism and that ability to connect with people and tell your story and show the history and what happened to you and your community is a really important step in, exposing truth and shifting, hopefully, towards reconciliation?

Moses Martin: Mmhmm. hmm. Reconciliation, I have a hard time understanding what that’s all about. I mean, it’s something that’s, never been had any discussion with us in our in our own communities. Well, what is it? And is it another form of treaty negotiations? And that’s what a lot of people are understanding now, that it’s just another form of treaty negotiations.

And I know that in my own community, we’ve rejected two final agreements with Canada and the province. People don’t really have any interest, for whatever reason that, they don’t want to have a treaty agreement.

Rodney Payne: How have you seen Tofino change in your life?

Moses Martin: Oh boy, huge changes in Tofino. At least as far as I’ve seen things develop over the years, and I remember Tofino having 230 people in it. And everybody knew everybody else, and then an old gravel road between here and Ucluelet that a fellow that owned the hotel here, followed by the name of Frank Bull, and his partner Dennis Singleton.

They operated a bus between here and there, and an old gravel road that had millions of potholes and took an hour to get to Ucluelet.

Rodney Payne: What are some of the things that have gotten better here over the course of your life? The positive changes?

Moses Martin: Just probably mostly the people in it. I mean, people around here are usually pretty friendly. The only thing that I wish would change a little bit is our relationship with our visitors, right? 

We like people to have a little more understanding and a little more respect for the place that they’re visiting.

Rodney Payne: What would that look like to you? How could we help people to learn more and understand more and respect the place better?

Moses Martin: Oh boy, there’s many parts to that. I’ll tell you a little story about my late father. Before he left, he taught me about respect, right? And that, I remember I was telling you about the dreams that I had, that he came to visit me at least once a month for 21 years.

And what that was all about was something that he said to me before he passed on, was that [Nuu-chah-nulth language]. And translating that, he said, what he was telling me was that respect is our very first law.

And he said that if you always base your decisions on that law. There isn’t much that you’re going to do wrong. And, I’ve lived that my whole life. I thought about those words and, and tried to live within those boundaries. It’s led me to where I am today and understanding those things that I have to do as an individual.

And things that I’ve done over the years to show respect, not to people, but to our environment and the place that we live.

Rodney Payne: Can you tell us a little bit about the work that you did when you were younger? And how you’ve helped to protect so many of the natural areas around here?

Moses Martin: One of the prouder moments of my own life is, what we did back in the 80s and, and 90s. Those words that I just spoke a little while ago about the environment and respect being the very first law. Well, anything that I’ve done after that those thoughts come into my own mind and that’s where I was coming from in the 80s when we got our hands on the logging plans of a company called Mac and Bloe at the time. And what they were going to do was harvest 90 percent of Meares. And we’ve seen it other places, down in Ucluelet, for instance, both of their mountains there were all balded off.

Just nothing left there, right? And that’s something that we didn’t want to see happen here. So, we came together with our non-Native friends here in Tofino, the environmental people, and I mean, things that we did we couldn’t have done without our relationship with the municipality.

Rodney Payne: And what did you manage to achieve?

Moses Martin: Well, as you can see, Meares is still there, right? And the trees are still standing, so anytime I look at that, or I need to think about things that I need to do myself, I think about that, and what we did back then.

Myself being involved politically for 53 years of my life and serving 13 terms as the elected Chief in this area, and Meares was one of the first major issues that came across our table. Going back to what my late father said. We knew that we had to do something to protect the island. And we’ve done other things after that, the whole traditional territory is now a tribal park, with expectations that people will, learn how to live here without having to damage, even ourselves, we’ve done a lot, a lot of damage, because we let it happen, together to right?

Rodney Payne: Do you think that the protests and what the community came together to achieve all those years ago has helped to shape an environmental consciousness that’s part of Tofino’s DNA now?

Moses Martin: I hope so. I was saying that I watched many really powerful First Nations leaders in B. C. and people like Joe Mathias and late Dr. James Cardinal from Nishka. And our local President of the Tribal Council. We come from a fellow by the name of George Watts.

They’re really powerful leaders. And I watched them in the way they did things. And usually pounding the table with demands and that kind of stuff. And something that I’ve never seen work. So I thought I’d try something a little bit different and so that was always a high priority as a political leader in our community is building relationships with the municipality, with our neighboring tribes and for me that was it.

That worked quite well for the things that we got into later when it, when it was time  to call on people for support. Well, they were willing to come and put their own lives on the line.

Rodney Payne: Do you think there are parallels with that time in your life and the climate emergency that we’re facing now? Is there, is there learning from what you saw and what you managed to come together to achieve that, that we need to think about in the moment we’re in?

Moses Martin: Oh boy. There’s so many things to think about when, when you come to those kind of issues and we can only do our part, right?

It doesn’t matter how small it is. We still need to do that. And I always tell our students, and in the classes that we teach, not enough to learn the language in the end, but you also have to understand it and then carry out yourself in living the language, which is so different, environmentally, right?

Like I was saying, I think our biggest loss in our communities was through the residential schools and the loss of our language. Now we’ve forgotten how to train our young people about the stuff that I learned as a kid and even being a parent growing up, our kids growing up, that’s something that’s lacking in our community.

And,  for myself, I’ve been involved in politics for all those years, I always looked for ways, different ways that our community could become healthy again. And I could never find that. Why? Because, well, it’s a different life now. We don’t know how to do what we call [Nuu-chah-nulth word] in our language, lecturing our kids and making them understand about the environment and how we need to do our part in taking care of that.

Rodney Payne: How does it make you feel seeing your language being taught in schools here?

Moses Martin: Oh, lots of hope. Yeah. My hope is that someday, the whole peninsula will speak and there and understand the language, at least understand some of the things that we can do together here, right?

Because we all call this place home and we need to do our part to keep it that way and look after it.

Rodney Payne: What do you think it means to be a good ancestor?

Moses Martin: I know our ancestors are with us, right? And I do a little bit of singing and a little bit of  drumming, too, as well. And any time that I beat on my own drum, I think about my ancestors, not all the time, but sometimes I think about my ancestors, that the beat of the drum is the heartbeat of our ancestors, and that our teachings go on, right?

Rodney Payne: What do you think the world can learn from the protests back in the 80s and from Tofino today? What can what can Tofino teach the people who come here and, and the world?

Moses Martin: Well, it shouldn’t have to come down to that, right? I mean, I think things are changing a bit politically, and governments are more willing to sit down and include First Nations issues, and sitting down and talking.

You know, and talk, having discussions about, how things should be and, you know, those kind of things that we need to understand each other, right?

Rodney Payne: Well, thank you for sitting down to talk to me today. Is there anything else you’d like to say before we finish?

Moses Martin: Not usually, don’t have a lot to say.

I’m one of those people that was never known to stand up and make great speeches. I just like to roll up my sleeves and do the work. And if I leave that with my kids, and I’m currently seeing that. I have a hard-working family.

Rodney Payne: Well, thank you for having us here, and thank you for sharing some inspiration today.

Moses Martin: Yeah, good. Always happy to do that.

Tyler Robinson: This has been Travel Beyond presented by Destination Think. Today’s guests were Brad Parsell and Moses Martin, who spoke with Rodney Payne in Tofino, British Columbia. For more resources about this episode, visit the blog at

I’m Tyler Robinson. My co-host is David Archer, who composed the theme music and produced this episode. Our co-producer is Sara Raymond de Booy. Lindsay Payne, Annika Rautiola, and Katie Shriner provided production support.

If you like what you hear, please take a moment to give us a five star rating on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. It helps people find our show.

We would like to thank Tourism Tofino for sponsoring this season of Travel Beyond. And we want to thank the many local community members, including First Nation leaders, for entrusting us with their stories.

Next time, you’ll hear from members of the Ahousaht First Nation about how tourism is enabling funds for rebuilding and supporting issues within the community. See you then.


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