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3, 273276 (1997)

Conference Report:
Australian Ecotourism
Ross K. Dowling*
College of Business, The University of Notre Dame Australia, PO Box 1225, Fremantle,
WA 6959, Australia

The third Australian national ecotourism conference was held on Kangaroo Island, South
Australia (SA) from 14 to 17 November 1996. The
conference was convened by the Ecotourism
Association of Australia (EAA) and it focused on
the theme Strategic Alliances: Ecotourism Partnerships in Practice. The conference attracted
over 100 delegates from Australia as well as from
several countries from the northern hemisphere.
The theme explored how to reap the benefits of
developing ecotourism partnerships and alliances. Partnerships were explored between
operators, protected area managers, local communities, traditional owners, other industry
associations and the conservation movement.

Australia (WA)]; Scott Cogar (Australian Resorts,

Qantas Group, Queensland); and Ross Alan
(Department of Environment and Natural
Resources, SA) as well as Parks, Players and
Payment Managing Tourism Beneficially with
Neil Price (Jarwoyn Association); Peter Ogilvie
(Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service) and Tony Medcraft (Exmouth Diving Centre,
WA). Other papers were presented on Profitable
Partnerships for Conservation on Philip Island
by Rob Saunders (Victorian National Parks
Service), Parks and Partnerships An Indigenous Perspective by Mark Sutton [National
Parks and Wildlife Service, New South Wales
(NSW)] and Conservation and Tourism
Achieving Million Dollar Partnerships by John
Walmsley (Earth Sanctuaries Ltd, SA).



The first day was hosted by the Australian

Governments Office of National Tourism. Entitled People and Parks Profitable Partners, it was
opened by Mrs Cathy Parsons, Acting Director of
the Office of National Tourism. This was followed by an address by Tim Richmond,
Executive Director, Environment Australia who
spoke on the role of the Australian Governments
environmental arm, particularly in relation to its
partnerships with indigenous groups, industry
and tourism.
Subsequent sessions comprised parallel workshops on a series of themes. They included
Beyond Protected Areas The Regional Management of Tourism with Jim Sharp [Department of
Conservation and Land Management, Western

The morning of the second day centred on

Kangaroo Island. Situated at the bottom of South
Australia, 30% of the 4500 square kilometres of
this island is dedicated to conservation parks
and is a prime ecotourism destination. Wildlife is
abundant, with the major attraction being a large
colony of sea lions which are visited by over
100,000 people annually. The island is currently
being planned for tourism development and a
Tourism Optimisation Management Model
(TOMM) was launched by the South Australian
Minister for Tourism, Hon. Graham Ingerson,
together with the SA Minister of Environment
and Natural Resources, Hon. David Wotton. The
model is an approach to manage and monitor
tourism on Kangaroo Island which has been
designed by Simon McArthur of Manidis
Roberts Consultants, Sydney. The key to the

* Correspondence to R. K. Dowling.
CCC 10773509/97/03027304 $17.50

1997 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Conference Report

approach is that it continually checks on the
health of tourism in a place by comparing the
amount and type of tourism activity with the
nature and scale of tourisms impacts. Thus it
can predict change and assists the tourism
industry identifying growth opportunities.
Following the launch were another set of
parallel sessions on themes including Partnerships: The Drawbridge to Opportunity. Fraser
Vickery (Department of Environment and Natural Resources, SA) examined the traditional roles
of natural resource managers and the naturebased tourism industry in managing and
providing experiences for visitors to public land.
He also described the successful partnership
between the resource manager and tourism
industry in relation to the management of the
Seal Bay sea-lion colony on Kangaroo Island.
Ross Dowling (The University of Notre Dame
Australia) and Jim Sharp (Director of National
Parks, WA) presented a joint paper outlining the
Western Australia Department of Conservation
and Land Managements partnerships with a
range of sectors in the tourism industry. They
described the need for the Department to foster
partnerships in order to adequately fulfil its
mission of wildlife protection and visitor opportunities, and added that partnerships should be
sought and not allowed to develop by osmosis.
Tony Charters (Ecotourism Management Australia and EAA President) described the range of
partnerships undertaken by a private company
when developing a nature-based resort. He
illustrated this by describing partnerships
undertaken with the resource managers, community, and indigenous people in developing
the A$70m Kingfisher Bay Resort and Village on
Fraser Island, a World Heritage Area on The
Great Barrier Reef.
A second session focused on Managing Ecotourism Operations. This was followed by a
session on Professional Ecotour Guide Training
which generated considerable interest. Presentations were on Ecotour Competency Standards
by Alice Crabtree, EAA; Site-Specific Tourism
Training Workshops, by Jane James; Tertiary and
Further Education (TAFE), SA; and An Ecotour
Operations Certificate Course by Sharon Stacey,
Tumut Skillshare, NSW. The final session examined partnerships further with presentations by
Janice Withnall, University of Western Sydney,
Nepean; Phillip Moore, Sunraysia Institute of
1997 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

TAFE, Victoria; and Guy Chester, Gutteridge,

Haskins and Davey Planning Consultants,
Cairns, Queensland.

The morning of the third day of the conference
was given over to a number of presentations on
ecotourism topics such as Ecotourist Profiles
(Trevor Plumridge, Monash University), Tourism and Health (Robyn Bushell, University of
Western Sydney), Sustainable Tourism (Guy
Chester), Park Partnerships (Brian Weir, Parks
and Conservation Service, Australian Capital
Territory), and Ecotourism Planning (Peter
Cock, Monash University) and Kara Krason
(Planning Workshop Australia, Sydney).
Three keynote addresses on this day provoked
considerable interest. They included Partnerships with Government by Cathy Parsons
Acting Director, Office of National Tourism who
outlined the continued ecotourism initiatives of
the Australian Federal Government which have
placed it at the forefront of the world. Just one
example is the recent publication of Projecting
Success: Visitor Management Projects for Sustainable Tourism Growth, which profiles 21
projects describing a range of management
strategies undertaken by land managers across
Australia to both enhance visitor experiences
and protect natural resources.
The second talk examined Issues in Protected
Area Policy in Australia by Penny Figgis, Vice
President of the Australian Conservation Foundation. The paper argued the need for a
reassertion of the primacy of the concept of
protected areas as refuges of nature conservation, lest they become severely compromised by
human demands and commercial motives.
Essentially it challenged the ecotourism industry
to proceed cautiously with its development in
Megan Epler-Wood, Executive Director, The
Ecotourism Society (TES), USA, presented the
findings of their organisations Green Evaluations of tourism in Ecuador. This was a timely
introduction to the launch of the National Ecotourism Accreditation Program (NEAP) by the
Ecotourism Association of Australia and the
Australian Tour Operators Association (ATOA).
The program has been developed by industry for


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industry addressing the need to identify genuine

ecotourism operators in Australia.
The voluntary program provides ecotourism
operators and protected area agencies with the
opportunity to meet minimum standards for
providing or conducting genuine ecotourism
operations. It is based on ecologically sustainable
development principles and allows operators
and protected area agencies to continually
improve their environmental management practices.
Ecotourism accreditation provides industry
and consumers with an assurance that an accredited ecotourism product or service is backed by a
commitment to best-practice environmental
management and the provision of quality ecotourism experiences. The program provides
benefits to ecotourism businesses, clients, natural
areas, natural area managers and local communities.
The program is based upon the following eight
principles. They are that ecotourism:
(1) focuses on personally experiencing natural
areas in ways that lead to greater understanding and appreciation;
(2) integrates opportunities to understand
natural areas into each experience;
(3) represents best practice for ecologically
sustainable tourism;
(4) productively contributes to the conservation of natural areas;
(5) provides constructive ongoing contributions to local communities;
(6) is sensitive to, interprets and involves
different cultures, particularly indigenous
(7) consistently meets clients expectations;
(8) marketing is accurate and leads to realistic
Each of the above principles is reflected in
specific assessment criteria which establish two
levels core and advanced. Each ecotourism
product that achieves all relevant core criteria
will be awarded Ecotourism Accreditation.
However, ecotourism businesses will be encouraged to operate beyond the standards of the core
criteria. Advanced Ecotourism Accreditation
will be awarded to an ecotourism product that
achieves a satisfactory number of relevant bonus
1997 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

criteria or achieves best practice in a range of

areas. Applicants will be required to assess the
performance of their own business against the
criteria. This will involve the completion of the
ecotourism accreditation application document
and the nomination of referees.

The conference concluded on day four with
delegates undertaking a variety of ecotours on
Kangaroo Island and then evaluating the tours
according to best-practice principles.

The conference was well organised and was a
reflection of the efforts of both the Convenor, Dr
Alice Crabtree, EAA Secretary and Cherise
Walmsley, EAA Executive Officer. Feedback from
the conference delegates indicated that in future
more practical case studies are desirable, that
workshops become more participatory, and that
more time could have been spent on regional
issues. Positive aspects were the five-star location, the indigenous content and the sharing of
knowledge and experiences.
Overall the conference provided an excellent
time in which to pause and take stock of the
present state and future directions of Australian
ecotourism. The ecotourism industry in Australia is at the leading edge of ecotourism
worldwide with a national ecotourism program
and strategy, rapidly growing association, a
multitude of training and education courses,
innovative built design principles, water and
waste minimisation practices, marketing strategies such as using the internet, the launch of the
national ecotourism accreditation scheme, and
the increasing interest in partnerships. The conference fostered the concept that partnerships
can be used to both preserve and protect landscapes as well as to foster tourism development
in an environmentally and culturally sensitive
manner. Such partnerships can cover a range of
areas and types and provide partners with the
opportunity to achieve far more than they could
from within their own resources.
The future of the ecotourism industry looks
bright and the next steps to be taken are ones


Conference Report

which will move the industry forward in a
professional manner based on the already established firm foundation of an environmentally
sustainable, educative and ethical industry. The

1997 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

challenge for the future is to maintain Australias

industry edge by investing in partnerships while
at the same time ensuring the environment is not