By Rawan Nimri

The Global Eco Asia Pacific Tourism Conference “Ecotourism- It’s time…” was recently held across three days in Townsville. The conference provided the chance to hear from academic and leading speakers from the industry on critical issues and sustainable initiatives in different destinations in addition to networking and engagement opportunities.

The main message repeated by most of the speakers was that focusing on growth should not be the main target as the world cannot cope with the estimated growth within the tourism industry. In addition, the ongoing discussions were highlighting that the concept of sustainable or ecotourism has been gathering a wider audience. Therefore, ecotourism should be used as a tool to inform different stakeholders, build governmental policies and cross-sector collaborations.

As for the issue of overtourism, the main question was – how will the industry cope? The definition of ecotourism (“responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”) demonstrates the need for the industry to consider innovative approaches. One approach entails product expansion and not duplication while focusing on the community to guarantee the long-term feasibility of any sustainable tourism progress plan. Nowadays, tourists are no longer looking for luxury but they search for sanctuary and isolation. Therefore, progressing iconic new experiences provide an opportunity to educate and inform them about the natural values and cultural heritage to increase their support.

Finally, different success stories were presented from the industry indicating that momentum for ecotourism is building. Increasingly, various destinations around the world are leading change by implementing sustainable practices and even enforcing some regulations and policies. This demonstrates a shift in the manner of thinking of ecotourism as more of an ongoing process rather than a marketing initiative. This will assist in creating experiences that has a more lasting involvement and impact for both the tourists and the local communities.

For me, the takeaway message from the 18th ecotourism conference is “Change before you have to”. This should be reflected by all stakeholders in order to achieve positive steps that will become the mainstream and not a niche anymore.