Ahousaht launches eco-tourism business

Ahousaht, BC

A new eco-tourism business called Ahous Adventures has been launched by the Ahousaht Ha’wiih in time for the start of the 2023 tourism season.

Based in Tofino and set open May 1, Ahous Adventures will offer both cultural and wildlife/nature viewing within the hahulthi of Ahousaht Ha’wiih (hereditary chiefs).

“Ahous Adventures, an eco and cultural adventure tour company owned and operated by the Ahousaht Nation, will offer an exciting variety of excursions within Ahousaht hahulii (territorial lands, waters and culture) including Hot Springs tours, whale watching and bear watching,” stated a Feb. 23 press release by Maaqutusiis Hahoulthee Enterprises Inc.

The new business was made possible through the recent purchase of assets from the now defunct Tofino-based tour company Ocean Outfitters in February. The acquisition includes a fleet of five 12-passenger boats, a mechanic shop, a store front on Tofino’s Main Street and staff accommodations.

The Ahousaht Ha’wiih (hereditary chiefs) manage several businesses through their Maaqutusiis Hahoulthee Enterprises Inc. (MHEI) and Maaqutusiis Hahoulthee Stewardship Society (MHSS). Ahous Adventures is one of those businesses.

Ahous Adventures General Manager Corene Inouye is helping to develop the new business, which will offer scheduled tours from Tofino to locations in Ahousaht territories. She said three of the boats will be covered cruisers while the other two are open Zodiac-style boats.

“Our primary focus will be scheduled tours to Hot Springs Cove along with whale and bear watching,” said Inouye. She noted that the boats could be available for private charters.

In order to offer tours, the new company needs to hire about 16 employees and are in the process of advertising the positions.

“We’re looking for small vessel operators/interpretive guides, customer service/front desk staff, a marine mechanic and a barista,” she said.

The interpretive part of the business is still being worked on with Ahousaht contacts that have worked with the First Nation’s Ha’wiih in the past.

“We encourage Ahousaht members to apply (for these jobs),” said Inouye, adding that they wish to hire as many interested and qualified Ahousaht citizens as possible.

The goal, for now, is to create a mentorship training program geared toward Ahousaht youth, who would be encouraged to learn and grow with the company.

Another acquisition made by the Ahousaht Ha’wiih is a luxury floating facility called Tofino Wilderness Resort. The purchase was made in 2022.

“We leveraged the capitol we had to secure the private property, which is in our territory, for the benefit of Ahousaht,” said Tyson Atleo, the First Nation’s hereditary representative.

Securing private property, fee simple lands within Ahousaht territory, is a priority for the Ha’wiih, according to Atleo.

Tofino Wilderness Resort, purchased by MHEH in 2022, is located in heart of Ahousaht territory and sheltered in the natural beauty of Quait Bay, near Cypre River.

Operating under separate management than Ahous Adventures, the 16-room floating resort will add another dimension to Ahousaht’s growing adventure tourism economic development plans.

It is currently undergoing extensive renovations and rebranding. Part of that work is incorporating Ahousaht art into the property.

“We’ve kept on the three experienced maintenance crew and will be adding Ahousaht members to develop their skills, and we’re working with the former general manager who will help us get it ready to operate,” said Atleo.

Included in the major upgrades is the construction of world-class staff accommodations. Atleo says that cabins are being built for staff working at the secluded resort.

During the off-season, the Ahousaht Ha’wiih plan to use the resort for healing retreats - not only for the First Nation’s members, but also for other Nuu-chah-nulth nations.

“We just finished an elder’s retreat there and we’re very proud,” said Atleo.

He went on to say that the elders were enthusiastic and had kind, supportive words for the Ha’wiih and the work they are doing.

“We are incredibly grateful to the community for their support and kind words,” said Atleo.

The new resort business is expected to open to the public in the summer of 2024. For now, it is being used for other purposes, like meetings or healing retreats hosted by Ahousaht.

“Ahous Adventures invites visitors to explore Ahousaht territories through the lens of the people who have lived on and stewarded these lands and waters since time immemorial,” stated the company in a written statement. “The additions of Ahousaht’s Indigenous culture, language, history, and storytelling is a unique tour experience in the region.”

“Ahous Adventures is core to Ahousaht’s economic development plans in the tourism sector, with the intent to build a sustainable conservation economy,” they continued.

Besides the resort, guests are invited to visit other destinations within Ahousaht hahulii, including Lone Cone Mountain, the Wildside Trail on Flores Island and Nismaquin Park (Maquinna Marine Park).

Ahousaht also has an agreement with BC Parks for the management of Maquinna Marine Park, including the campground and hot springs. They have created a new visitor-use plan which prioritizes ecological and cultural values, and sets access hours for exclusive Ahousaht commercial use.

According to Atleo, commercial tourism businesses with paid permits will have exclusive access to the hot springs from sunrise to 11 a.m., and again from 4 p.m. to sunset. The fees collected will go to the Ahousaht Stewardship Fund. This fund was established by the Ha’wiih to pay for maintenance of the park. It also financially supports the work of the Ha’wiłh, stewardship guardians, biologists and MHSS in carrying out the Ha’wiłh’s ancestral responsibilities to steward the lands and waters that support Ahousaht musčim.  

“We are actively working with Parks BC to inform the public about the new visitor use plan,” said Atleo.

Ahousaht, said Atleo, has been marginalized out of the tourism industry in the past. They are working to turn that around for the benefit of their people.

For more information about Maquinna Park user fees and schedules, visit https://mhssahousaht.ca/hot-springs-maquinna-park/

Located at 368 Main Street in Tofino, Ahous Adventures will host a grand opening celebration on May 1, 2023. For more information about Ahous Adventures, call general manager Corene Inouye at 250-726-8596.

According to Atleo, a website for Ahous Adventures is under construction and will be found at adventure@mhssahousaht.ca.

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