A travel agency for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands

Tourism Australia Premier Aussie Specialist
Accredited Tassie, Northern Territory, NT Outback, NSW, Victoria & Queensland Specialists
Matai Fiji Specialist



 

Ecotourism - tread softly with your eyes open

 

The word ecotourism can mean many things to many people. Here’s what it means to us. We believe in the conservation of nature throughout the world, and are concerned about the traditions and values of the people of it. We feel that the best way for anyone to feel passionate about conservation is to experience its success, and to understand what can happen to wildlife, ecosystems, and scenic beauty without it. Experience tells us that a person feels more strongly about something they have touched, seen first hand, or interacted with, than just read about or seen on television. While the latter are great tools, first-hand experience is far more powerful. If I may, I’d like to tell a little ancient history.

Back in the seventies I worked with the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service, in Australia, and part of my work was on Brolgas and Magpie Geese. Near our office was a place called the Town Common, public land once used to hold cattle brought to market. Although a few stray cattle remained, it had become an important, but unprotected habitat for a variety of waterbirds, including the cranes. As I was the one who knew the area well, and the wildlife there, I was the one who showed visiting dignitaries, reporters etc around. (There weren’t many highlights for visitors in this city!) It was then that I noticed the attitude change. In just an hour or two, impatient politicians, bored dignitaries and jaded reporters became enthusiastic about the animals they were seeing, and how an area that had, to them, seemed to be just brown, dry grass and shallow swamps was in fact a place of beauty when one starting looking. It didn’t take very long, with the support and understanding we created, to easily get full protection for the Common. When I left the Service, I started my first ecotourism company. I’d been bitten too. Andrew Haffenden

We also believe that indigenous people have the right to their own futures. We respect their cultures and their beliefs, within reason (we're not going to accept the beheading of wives who want a divorce as "culture"). But we don’t expect thekava ceremony fiji villagem to live in poverty, or without modern, often life-saving, amenities, just so we can see “tradition.” The indigenous people of the world are not peep shows. On the other hand, there are some traditional practices that are not compatible with our own outlook, or we prefer not to make them part of tourism, such as semi-traditional hunts for wildlife put on so tourists can join in the killing. Such things are not part of our tours. We don’t proselytize against them when there, but we don’t support them either. But we’ll respect Sunday as a day of rest on many Pacific Islands, and bring a gift of kava for the chief of a village in Fiji, even if it is a mild narcotic. We'll dress conservatively in traditional villages. We are guests, and we wish to be welcomed back.

Whenever possible we select companies to work with that have similar outlooks to ours; more often than not smaller ones that were created by people of passion about the natural world. Some are larger, but still we look for good environmental outlooks and records. Although many major companies are turning greener, we'll still have to use companies with more normal outlooks, as, eg, there are only so many ways to get from Adelaide to Darwin by train. We’ll often support a local ecobusiness because we want to help them grow, and influence others.

So, we believe in getting people to experience a country first-hand. And yes, that has some environmental costs. But we feel that overall the benefits outweigh the costs, when development and travel are sensitive to their surroundings. We also believe in the bigger picture. When visiting a country, that country should benefit from our presence. That’s why we try to use the flag airline, and hotels, lodges and operations owned by nationals. It’s why we use local guides, rather than US ones. Almost without exception, the vast majority of the cost of a trip that you pay to us goes to the country you’re visiting, from airline workers to the small Papua New Guinea village that receives a donation for the use of their pathways.

More directly, we also support conservation organizations in the countries we visit. These may be local, regional, national or interest-based. And of course, we make sure as many people in-country as possible know why we are there, and spending money — in large part for the natural areas of their country. We use our influence and our presence wherever possible to promote conservation and good management, while accepting that we are only visitors there, and that it is not our land.

But we also remember that we’re on vacation and traveling for enjoyment, not for college credits!

 

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