The Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies is a division of the Faculty of Health
When Applied Health Sciences grad Agnes Nowaczek (PhD '09) found herself repeatedly let down by pre-packaged vacations claiming to give travellers authentic cultural experiences, she decided to do something about it.
In 2011, Nowaczek founded Ecotours by Agnes, a unique travel company designed to provide adventure seekers with custom tailored and culturally meaningful vacations. "I've always had this passion for travel and nature and I could never find what I desired, so I thought 'why don't I create something?'" said Nowaczek.
"I went to Italy, Cuba, Australia and South America, but each time I came back dissatisfied. It was either all-inclusive or group travel. I always felt there was something missing. I really like to immerse myself in the local culture, learn the language, try local food. But with most tours everything is pre-arranged, there is no freedom."
But Nowaczek's frustration with traditional tour itineraries and mediocre service was only half of the equation. "I was annoyed with companies and businesses saying 'we're sustainable', but upon closer inspection they didn't really care about the local communities or the ecological integrity of the natural areas," she said.
Nowaczek has long been a proponent of ecotourism — a burgeoning field that seeks to immerse small groups of travelers in local environments in order to provide a rich cultural experience while benefiting the local community and having little if any negative impact on the natural environment. In a project leading to her PhD dissertation, Nowaczek spent four months in the Peruvian Amazon basin developing a multidimensional scale to measure the ethics of ecotourists.
This acute sense of social responsibility has helped Nowaczek build a network of eco-friendly partners in Panama, Peru, South Africa and Costa Rica in order to meet her clients' individual needs. She can arrange itineraries ranging from group volunteer opportunities to high end escapes.
"I follow my passion," she said. "I believe the only way to really experience a culture is to become immersed in it in the most uncommercialized sense. Even if people only have a week, my goal is to give them a once in a lifetime experience."
By: Christine Bezruki