According to Rod Hillman, CEO of Ecotourism Australia, sustainable tourism is not just occurring where you’d expect it - in beautiful remote landscapes – but is increasingly permeating other zones and booming businesses. By Poppy Johnston, courtesy The Fifth Estate.
Nundah, Queensland, Australia. 5 January 2019. “Travellers today are very savvy. They’ve heard about climate change and the negative impacts tourism can have on a destination,” says Rod Hillman, CEO of Ecotourism Australia (EA). “Visitors just expect it.” And driving this emphasis on sustainable tourism, says Hillman, is tourist feedback. He asserts that most tourists don’t book just because a destination or hotel is green, but if they arrive and the venue isn’t sustainable, they are likely to give it a poor report – maybe on social media as well as to their friends.
“If you’re a business and you’re not conscious of how you’re operating in respect to the environment and the local community, you’re losing out,” he says.
As a not-for-profit organisation, EA’s mantra is to promote “ecotourism [as] ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation." Hillman says the organisation’s core work is its ECO Certification program which assesses operators’ business, environmental and socio-cultural performance. He says that of the 500 or so EA-certified tourism providers, some 100 are accommodation providers; the rest are mainly tours for hiking, sailing and outdoor activities.
Nonetheless, a key part of its activities include guidelines that help operators construct and operate green buildings. He says this is part of a broad movement in the industry; indeed, a 2018 report on innovation in the hotel industry from Tourism Accommodation Australia claims that “environmental sustainability is at the heart of most hotel operations today” and that this now goes way beyond just reusing towels and installing automatic lights to conserve energy and reduce waste.
Examples of this ‘above and beyond’ approach include the Ibis Hotel in Hobart, Tasmania which claims to be Australia’s first and only 5 star Green Star certified hotel. And the Wyndham LUX Perth Hotel is aiming to be the first hotel worldwide to obtain an EPD – an independently verified and registered document that communicates transparent and comparable data about the life-cycle environmental impact of its products.
And in Lorne, Victoria, an off-grid outdoor adventure park called Live Wire Park claims it can survive off its solar and battery system for three days from a single charge. Better still, water on site is collected and treated to irrigate the park, and guests are asked not to bring plastic packaging if they bring their own food.
Bottom line bonus
A sustainable approach, asserts Hillman, makes business sense too. He says that it’s “extremely rare” for his organisation’s members to suffer financially because of the direct link between environmental/social sustainability and financial viability.
“Tourism is a tough game. Most go broke in tourism in the first five years. It is far more likely for your business to be [financially] sustainable if you run it according to ecotourism principles,” he says. Long-term sustainable business planning and vision helps embed the operators into the community and the region; it’s about what benefit the community and the environment is getting he points out.
“A happy community that welcomes tourists is also a good sign that the location is not suffering from over-tourism,” he says.
Hillman points to Lord Howe Island as a shining example of community led-tourism. The 350 residents of the world heritage-listed island decided that they didn’t want noticeably more tourists than locals on the island at any one time, so they applied a bed limit of 400, regulated by a system of bed licences.
As Hillman says, this means that tourists and locals alike “aren’t running into heaps of people and can take their shoes off and walk across the beach”. Better still, it also makes the accommodation businesses on the island more predictable and financially sustainable. This sustainability-led initiative helped the island win top honour at the recent Banksia Awards.
“Bookings on Lord Howe Island are running around 100% occupancy and yields are fantastic,” Hillman points out. “Not only are operators getting good prices for their rooms, but the bed licences themselves can be a source of income when they are bought and sold.”
This means residents of the island are able to invest tourism-generated income back into the product – the island itself. These have extended to initiatives such as nurturing endangered native species and pest eradication. “They’ve done feral goats, rats are next,” smiles Hillman.
Spreading the word
The trend is spreading. In places such as Copenhagen in Denmark and New Zealand, as well as in parts of Australia and Southeast Asia, Hillman notes a shift away from pure “numbers game” tourism. An example is the Palau Pledge, was introduced in July this year by the Micronesian country. This is a world-first eco-tourism conservation pledge that is stamped into the passports of visitors to Palau. The pledge commits visitors to support local businesses and leaving shells and wildlife untouched during their stay.
Also, it appears that for tourists looking for a sustainable destination, price is not a deal-breaking factor. Although as Hillman admits, the price-point of Lord Howe Island “is certainly out of reach for a lot of people,” to visit such a place is likely a once in a lifetime experience.
Hillman is optimistic that as more people recognise that sustainable ecotourism consistently delivers a higher quality experience, demand for these services will increase and new markets will be unearthed. He believes that over-tourism in some popular holiday destinations is prompting both communities and governments to think more holistically about the impact tourism is having on natural environments and the social fabric.
“There’s a push to changing tourist behaviour by welcoming people as “guests” rather than just as tourists. When guests come [into our own homes] we have rules, shoes off, don’t smoke, be aware, and everything else is cool,” says Hillman.
“Now we [are seeing] these kinds of rules for entering countries or regions too.”
To see the original article, go to : https://www.thefifthestate.com.au/home-and-lifestyle/responsible-tourism/overcrowded-tourist-hot-spots-put-ecotourism-on-the-map