Victoria Tour Operator in World’s Top 50-National Geographic Magazine

posted on Apr 21

A Victoria company that takes tourists to the Great Bear Rainforest aboard a classic tall ship has been heralded by National Geographic as running one of the world's 50 Tours of a Lifetime.

The eight-day, $4,900 cruise aboard the Maple Leaf, a 28-metre schooner based in Victoria's Inner Harbour, was picked by National Geographic Traveler from thousands of nominations worldwide.

"We are absolutely thrilled and honoured," said Maple Leaf Adventures president Kevin Smith, who operates the ship with partner Maureen Gordon.

The 50 selections across six global zones were "antidotes to the average," editors said in National Geographic's online edition on Wednesday. "We looked for tours designed for experience, immersion, sustainability and cultural connection."

The winners ranged from a tour of the Galapagos and biking in Burma to walking with elephants in Zimbabwe and a Siberia whitewater rafting excursion.

National Geographic writer Margaret Loftus noted that Maple Leaf Adventures scored high on all counts. "Explore the central coast of British Columbia, one of the largest tracts of unspoiled temperate rain forest in the world, aboard a classic wooden schooner," she wrote. "Traveling under sail allows for a low-impact front-row seat to the Great Bear Rain Forest's ecosystem, the star of which is the elusive white Kermode bear, known as the Spirit bear. Naturalists and First Nations elders provide commentary."

The international attention for a B.C. company in a prominent travel publications prompted a statement from Tourism Minister Pat Bell. The industry has suffered a slow burn since 9/11 and has had to deal with multiple aftershocks, including natural disasters, health scares and currency issues that have hindered tourism growth.

"The tours offered by Maple Leaf Adventures epitomize what Super Natural British Columbia is all about," said Bell "This international exposure helps to support B.C.'s tourism industry, which provides jobs for so many British Columbians."

The only other Canadian tour on the Top 50 list was Inuit Odyssey, a cultural exploration through northern Quebec and Nunavut.

It isn't the first time the Maple Leaf Adventures has been singled out by National Geographic. In 2009, the Washington, D.C.-based magazine rated Maple Leaf as one of the top adventure travel companies on Earth, lauding its environmental leadership.

Smith has taken great pride in not only the ship but building the tours around sustainability and relationships with First Nations. He said the company was started in 1986 "to earn a living from nature without harming it" and they have been encouraging others in the industry to do the same.

The Maple Leaf was launched in 1904 as a racing sailboat and was known as the most expensive yacht on the waters north of San Francisco — and the first with electric lights. It was renamed Parma and worked as a halibut longliner from the early 1930s into the 1970s before an eight-year restoration period brought her to current state.

This year, Smith and Gordon will run six trips to the Great Bear Rain Forest — the first from June 5 to 12 . They also offer tours to Haida Gwaii, southeast Alaska and the Gulf Islands.

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