1. Being highly involved in ecotourism throughout your professional career, how would you say the industry has evolved through the years? Is there currently a trend in ecotourism that’s picking up?
Ecotourism has grown hugely over the past 20 – 30 years. Whereas once it was a small, minor, niche form of tourism, today it is big business and underpins the economies of a large number of countries and regions.
2. Having been a consultant on tourism and providing advice to many businesses around the world, what is the biggest challenge that most of these players in the industry have faced or are facing?
By far the largest challenge is to maintain a pristine natural environment in which ecotourism takes place and also to ensure that ecotourists undertake authentic cultural experiences.
3. How do you think these challenges can be overcome?
These challenges can be overcome through awareness, interpretation, and education of both the tourists as well as their hosts
4. Throughout your professional career, can you share with us what is your most significant achievement so far?
A significant achievement for me has been as a pioneer in the field of ‘Geotourism’. Geotourism is viewed as being based on the idea that the environment is made up of Abiotic, Biotic and Cultural components. This ‘ABC’ approach comprises the Abiotic elements of geology and climate, the Biotic elements of animals (fauna) and plants (flora), and Cultural or human components, both past and present. Geotourism argues that to fully understand and appreciate the environment we must know about the Abiotic elements of geology and climate first, as these determine the Biotic elements of animals and plants which live there. By extension, the combination of the Abiotic and Biotic components of the environment, determine the Cultural Landscape of how people have lived in the area in the past, as well as how they live there today, in the present. Thus geotourism is far more comprehensive than ecotourism as it provides a more holistic understanding of the environment and its interrelationships.
5. Has the interest towards sustainable and ecotourism among young people changed over the years?
Has there been a rise or boom in the number of students in the industry at ECU or Western Australia itself? There has been a significant rise in the acceptance of sustainable tourism and ecotourism in recent years. So much so that now sustainability principles are included in all forms of the travel world from attractions, to activities, airlines and cruise ships etc. Whereas the baby boomers are driving this change, the younger millennials are demanding that their products and services are environmentally friendly. And we see that at University too with our students far more interested in the natural environment than the generation before them.
6. What would your advice be to young people who want to choose sustainable and ecotourism as their career path?
My first piece of advice is to suggest that they get involved in the protection or conservation of the environment. I tell my environmental students that they might not be able to change the world but they can change ‘their’ world. So I recommend that they do something for their local environment. It may be small but it will be a start and if everyone on the planet did a little, then we would not be facing the major environmental problems that we are facing today.
7. How would you envision ecotourism to be like, say 10 years from now?
I think that in ten years time geotourism will have overtaken ecotourism as it is a much more holistic approach to understanding the earth and its abiotic, biotic and cultural elements. Ecotourism will still exist but most probably within the broader framework of geotourism.
8. If you have one wish on ecotourism, what will it be?
My one wish for ecotourism is that the business of ecotourism would be more respectful of the natural and cultural environments in which they operate. In other words, ecotourism should start with the natural environment first, then embrace and work with the local people next, so that when profits are made part of this flows back first to the environment and then to the local community. In this way we will have a true triple bottom line outcome for ecotourism.