British Columbia

Rude, messy, disrespectful tourists anger communities on Vancouver Island's west coast

While the influx of tourist dollars has been welcome for communities like Tofino and Ucluelet, which spent months without visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, locals have reported an increase in rude behaviour, messiness and disregard for bylaws.

'Tofino is being treated like a theme park,' says one business owner, as mayors criticize visitors' behaviour

Mess left behind at an illegal campsite in Tofino, B.C. The district has stopped warning illegal campers and is now directly handing out $200 fines, Mayor Josie Osborne says. (submitted by @tofinotourismawareness)

Recent floods of tourists to popular towns on Vancouver Island's west coast have been an economic blessing — but many residents and businesses say they've also been a social curse.

While the influx of tourist dollars has been welcome for communities like Tofino and Ucluelet, locals have reported an increase in rude behaviour, messiness and disregard for bylaws.

"There is just absolutely no respect for the people living here, nor the environment," said Aaron Turner, a long-term resident of Tofino.

Starting June 22, when B.C. entered Phase 3 of its pandemic response plan, provincial leaders including Premier John Horgan encouraged British Columbians to explore their own backyard. And for many that meant visiting Vancouver Island's west coast.

Turner, who captains whale-watching boats and ferries visitors to Hot Springs Cove up the coast, says the economic importance of tourism is undeniable — but this year's crop of almost exclusively Canadian tourists is like nothing that has come before.

He says many have left trash on beaches and trails, camped illegally and have been drinking and doing drugs, while some have even demanded special treatment at local grocery stores.

"Tofino is being treated like a theme park and the people who live here are being treated like ride operators," he said. "But we are real people and this is a real community."

Trash left on a beach in Tofino. 'Some people seem to be making a choice that the beach is a garbage dump and an outhouse,' Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne said. (submitted by @tofinotourismawarness)

Scores of locals have taken to social media to share similar complaints. A post by Turner on a popular Facebook message board elicited more than 60 angry responses from grocery store clerks, hotel workers and surfing instructors, some of whom say visitors are doing little to follow public health advice concerning the pandemic.

"I am over the visitors. Half of them give zero f---s about COVID or observing social distancing," a response by Maya Rothschild said.

'Some really terrible behaviour'

Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne says she's also concerned. After shuttering for months during the lockdown, the community had hoped to reopen gradually.

Instead, the number of daily visitors is as high as, if not higher than last year, she said.

"The municipality and the community were just not prepared for this kind of pressure and unfortunately we are seeing some really terrible behaviour," said Osborne.

"Some people seem to be making a choice that the beach is a garbage dump and an outhouse."

Osborne says the district is no longer handing out warnings for illegal camping, and is instead directly handing out $200 fines.

Make smart decisions, urges mayor 

It's a similar story in Ucluelet. Mayor Mayco Noël says he is happy people are still visiting but he wants them to remember communities like his are small and isolated, so people need to make smart choices.

"Don't have 15 people in a short-term rental," he said. "Pack a cooler and bring your own food, don't be walking into the grocery store like you're in Nanaimo or Vancouver."

Noël, Osborne, and Turner say they want to welcome tourists to the Island's west coast, but only if they are respectful, follow the rules and have a place to sleep.

"Don't come to the west coast for an overnight trip without a reservation," Osborne said.

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