Australia’s Ecotourism

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-By Jaime McKee

Australia has long been a popular destination for travellers from around the world, thanks to its stunning natural beauty, rich history, and thriving culture. But with new environmental awareness comes a whole new breed of travel: ecotourism. Growing annually by 10-15% worldwide, ecotourism has become one of the fastest-growing sectors of the industry. Australia, with its many pristine and protected areas, green building initiatives, and imaginative resort developers, is at the forefront of this growing movement.

Ecotourism is generally considered to be responsible, sustainable travel to fragile, pristine, or protected areas. Ecotourists strive to “tread lightly”, leaving a negligible human footprint on the natural environment, limiting emissions, waste and ecological disruption, and, ideally, learning something along the way. An effective ecotourism accommodation, tour or adventure will educate the traveler, provide funds for ecological conservation, directly benefit the economic development and political empowerment of local communities, and foster respect for different cultures and for human rights. Some of the very best ecotourism destinations may also combine innovative design, leading-edge green technologies, and unique construction options to create a truly sustainable – and memorable – experience.

In Australia, the peak national body for the industry is Ecotourism Australia. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the association was formed as an incorporated non-profit, with the goal of “[being] leaders in assisting ecotourism and other committed tourism operations to become environmentally sustainable, economically viable, and socially and culturally responsible”. Ecotourism Australia believes that the litmus test for true ecotourism is compliance with the core criteria stated within the Eco Certification Program, which can be viewed on the association’s website. A world first, the program was developed to address the need to identify genuine ecotourism operators in Australia. Acting as both a framework to assist members in operating in ecologically sound ways and an internationally recognised brand standing for sustainability, the Eco Certification Program is now being exported to the rest of the world as the International Ecotourism Standard. Tourism operators in Australia who have their product accredited under the program can genuinely claim to provide an authentic ecotourism product, whether that be a tour, skippered cruise or boat charter, attraction, or accommodation.

Ecotourism Australia has a diverse membership that includes key industry sectors such as accommodation, tour and attraction operators, tourism planners, protected area managers, academics and students, consultants, local and regional tourism associations, and travellers. The association aims to support its members through approaches such as developing standards of best practice, streamlining policies and processes, improving financial viability for operators who adopt sustainable practices, contributing to conservation projects, and marketing principles of sustainability across all sectors of the tourism industry. The association also provides an online searchable database of members, seminars and workshops, and a lively and informative annual national conference.

Despite such strong support and increasing visibility on the global stage, ecotourism as a concept is still subject to some criticism. In the continuum of tourism activities that stretch from conventional tourism to ecotourism proper, there has been a lot of contention as to how, exactly, the term should be defined. Naturally, environmentalists, special interest groups, developers, industry representatives, and governments define ecotourism differently. Environmental organisations have generally insisted that ecotourism is nature-based, sustainably managed, supportive of conservation, and environmentally educated. The tourism industry and governments, however, focus more on the product side, equating ecotourism with any sort of tourism based in nature. As a further complication, many terms are used under the rubric of ecotourism; nature tourism, low impact tourism, green tourism, bio-tourism, ecologically responsible tourism, and others have been used in literature and marketing, although they are not necessary synonymous with ecotourism. There is also the dangerous trend towards “greenwashing”, commercialising tourism schemes which are only nominally sustainable, nature based, or environmentally. With this in mind, the Eco Certification Program and its strict standards can play a strong role in guiding consumers towards true ecotourism activities.

Many Australian companies, of course, do take part in true ecotourism, and do it very well. Alpine Habitats combines ecological principles with leading edge construction techniques to provide high quality holiday accommodation. The firm employs energy efficient operations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and offers onsite waste management practices. The resort was constructed using low impact building techniques including driven pile foundations, high thermal performance buildings, and passive solar architecture. Featuring 18 unobtrusive self-contained units scattered amongst 40 acres of bush land, Alpine Habitats is surrounded by the Snow Gum Woodlands of the Thredbo Valley and the Alpine Mountain regions of the Kosciuszko National Park.

In a similar vein, the Aquila Eco Lodges are nestled in 100 acres of virgin bushland, bordered by the Grampians National Park and the Grampians Golf Course. Located 6 kilometres from Dunkeld, the architecturally-designed lodges illustrate sustainable living practices in a private and peaceful setting. The Aquila lodges employ the latest technologies available to the construction industry, such as rain water collection, solar power, thermal mass heating, and self-composting waste treatment, and are widely recognised for their low environmental impact approach to development.

Designed for comfort in the wilderness, Canopy Treehouses are perched high in the rainforest canopy on the banks of the flowing Ithaca River. The eco-friendly house designs blend in naturally with the surrounding rainforest, making the resort the ultimate eco-friendly rainforest destination in Australia. Crafted from rainforest timbers, Canopy’s luxury timber and glass treehouses are completely private, each boasting two bedrooms, a fully self-contained kitchen, wood fireplace, spa bath and balcony with a barbecue and hammock.

Ecotourism experiences may also take the form of a hike through a nature preserve, a wildlife safari trek, a low-impact stay in a national park, or a sea charter.

As the country’s developers continue to lead the way in green initiatives, and industry professionals and travellers alike become more sensitive to environmental concerns, it only makes sense that these two realms will continue to come together in the form of sustainable resorts and ecological adventures.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

November 21, 2018, 3:44 AM AEDT