Featured Woman in Travel: Jeneen from the Wilderness Tourism Association
International Women’s Day 2023
The travel industry is full of interesting partnerships and collaborations, which is part of the reason we love it so much. In our day-to-day operations at Mosaic Earth, we work with some incredible female business owners, experience providers, industry advocates, and champions for our planet and its people. I find I’m always learning and gaining inspiration from our partners.
As a female owned and operated business, International Women’s Day is a chance for us to celebrate our fellow women+ in the industry, to lift each other up, and to empower more women to join this wonderful tourism community.
This year we are pleased to feature Jeneen Sutherland, Executive Director of the Wilderness Tourism Association (WTA) of British Columbia. She comes from an impressive background in active/adventure travel abroad and within BC. We first met when Mosaic Earth joined the WTA in 2022. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Jeneen, her experience in the tourism industry, and her important advocacy work with the WTA.
Here is Jeneen’s story…
PD: Tell us about your journey and what led you to joining the the Wilderness Tourism Association.
JS: I was born and raised in North Vancouver (the ancestral lands for the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations) and I have always turned to the incredible surrounding forests and seas for solace and play. After travelling the globe, I reside here now and I think the North Shore forests have become part of my DNA!
I started working in tourism in the late 90s as a cycling tour guide leading trips in Europe and then all over the globe. When I first started the gig I thought it would be a ‘goof off year’, but the more I travelled, the more I got hooked on this industry. I met so many incredible folks around the world who were aligning great community initiatives with their businesses. This time also opened by eyes to the importance of ‘light footprint’ travel.
After 15 years with this active travel company, I decided I needed a change so I went back to school and studied Sustainable Community Development. I then started my own consulting company and worked on several active transportation advocacy initiatives, mostly for ‘safe routes to school’ and other bike initiatives. I always continued to pick up tourism contracts as well; Most notably, I helped get the Magnificent 7 – Luxury Wilderness Lodges partnership off the ground.
Last year I was alerted to a posting for the Executive Director role for the WTA and I thought…that sounds like me!
I really admire all of our operators, partners, and members. We are all like-minded in that we all have a passion for this industry and we are all tuned into biodiversity protection and halting climate change.
PD: What do you love most about living and working in British Columbia? What’s your favourite place to travel in the province?
JS: I am always drawn into the forest. I have my favourite Douglas Fir that I visit nearby my house. My preferred activity these days is running or mountain biking with my Red Heeler. I also have a secret ocean swimming spot where you can find me from April to October.
There are so many incredible places in BC, that’s why I love this job. I’ve been so fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to some very remote corners of the province.
Some highlights for me include seeing the grizzlies in the Bella Coola valley in the Fall, paddling in the Broughton Archipelago, horse riding up near 70 Mile House, and mountain biking in the Chilcotins. I also love cross-country skiing in the winter and I’ve visited many cool little ski communities in BC such as Rossland and Revelstoke.
PD: What is something you’re really proud of that you’ve accomplished in your career?
JS: It has taken a while but I finally feel comfortable asking government officials for change. I used to find it intimidating but now I realize that they are just humans like you and me…and frankly most are good folks who really want change but are dealing with outdated policies and legacy issues.
My biggest advocacy victory was getting an active transportation resolution passed at UBCM [Union of BC Municipalities] a couple of years ago.
As far as the WTA goes, we have been advocating for changes in forest policy and wild salmon protection. We’ve recently seen some small wins with changes to forestry legislation and the removal of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands. We’ve got a long way to go but we are moving in the right direction.
PD: Can you describe the challenges you’ve experienced as a woman in travel, and any advice for women+ in the industry?
As a traveller, I have definitely experienced vulnerability as a female, and found myself in some downright scary scenarios. It is really important for solo women travellers to understand how females are treated in the communities/countries they are visiting. Sadly, many parts of the world are seeing deteriorating rights for women.
In my career, the industry has come a long way but I now find it generally to be a supportive place for women. I’ve been fortunate in that I have worked with some incredible women and men. I would say my biggest challenge has been balancing family/work life. I’ve learned that there is no such thing as ‘balance’ and once I accepted that then I was able to be more gentle with myself.
PD: How can we promote more inclusion of women+ in the tourism industry?
JS: We need more women in leadership everywhere. The reality is that travel intersects so many different industries from tech to manufacturing to apparel to agriculture to transportation infrastructure, etc.
I absolutely love what the Worth Association is doing for our industry right now. I recently heard Joanna Jagger speak and she turned many ‘norms’ upside down for me.
I also think that as women we need to lift and support each other. I have a teenage daughter and I love how the girls these days boost each other up!
PD: What trends are you seeing when it comes to more sustainable, meaningful travel?
REGENERATIVE travel is the way forward. It is no longer enough to be sustainable. Many tourism businesses are implementing the UN SDGs into their operations which is an important step.
It is great to see so many operators committed to Reconciliation as well. We recently hosted a Decolonizing Your Destination talk with Alison Tedford. It was well attended and she offered fantastic guidance.
PD: What are the key initiatives are you’re currently working on with WTA?
JS: Where do I start…we are embarking on a new strategic plan that has four pillars: advocacy, marketing, building community and financial resilience. There are many ‘irons in the fire’ but I would say the highest priority are the advocacy initiatives – including forest protection, healthy seas, tackling biodiversity loss and fair policies that permit our members to stay in business.
There are so many hurdles for our members to run their businesses. Our government has prioritized extraction-based industry for far too long. It is time to recognize the value of wilderness tourism and that the green economy is the way forward.
Thank you, Jeneen, for sharing your story and passion for the wilderness with us!
And thank you to all the women+ leaders, partners, travellers and allies in our community for your interest and support of our woman-led travel business.