Margaret River Retreat, near the majestic Boranup Forest National Park in Western Australia, is our newest ECO certified accommodation, and offers a diverse mix of accommodation styles ideal for any holidaymaker. These include luxury eco-glamping and four self-contained studio rooms, plus a safari camp and bush camp, both of which should be open by 2021.
Hugged by Forest Grove National Park and adjacent to Wadandi Track and trails, the privately-owned property forms part of a natural wildlife corridor between Augusta, Margaret River and Nannup all the way to Contos Beach. The 75-acre farm has been meticulously re-worked to form an important connection to place, community, culture, family and friends.
The location offers market garden and small orchard growing areas to provide organically grown, seasonal fruit and vegetables to the onsite café, which focuses on grown and gathered produce from local producers and the onsite gardens. Margaret River Retreat also aims to harness its connections with the local Wadandi people through learning about local flora dyes for fabric printing workshops and developing ongoing relationships with the local community of Indigenous people.
Photo credit – Instagram – Margaret River Retreat
Glamping offers a value-filled, luxuriously appointed and sustainable way to stay in this beautiful region, and Margaret River Retreat’s canvas cabins are situated within a dedicated area overlooking the Forest Grove National Park. Cabins are designed by Australian companies who pride themselves on achieving a high level of sustainability, including the use and manufacture of Australian Army grade canvas that is much longer lasting.
The cabins are equipped with off-grid technologies, such as solar power batteries for recharging devices and providing ambient and direct lighting. Cabins also feature measures aimed at reducing energy consumption and increasing the use of renewables, an example of which is that six of the ten glamping cabins are solar energy cabins which use Yeti battery storage power boxes to charge mobile phones and lights. The accommodation also offers communal kitchen facilities for glamping guests, which further reduces the overall need for individual appliances. Guests are encouraged to hire an outdoor woodfire to cook on, bring extra warm clothes and sit around a central fire pit to reduce the need for heaters in their tents. Tents are treated with a natural mould resistant product and vinegar spray to remove and prevent mould stains on the canvas. They have also been raised to prevent mice infestations burrowing under the canvas and creating pockets in the floor. Each tent opening is regularly sprayed with Peppermint and Eucalyptus spray to prevent ants from entering the tents. The retreat’s goal is to get the most out of their tents to avoid replacement.
Studio room – Photo credit Margaret River Retreat
Further showcasing their environmental ethos, Margaret River Retreat uses locally owned Bio Bean Coffee – small batch roasted coffee with certified organic and Fairtrade coffee beans whose packaging is compostable. Used coffee grounds are collected each week and placed in the retreat’s composting and worm farming systems. Another supplier used is Bannister Downs, whose premium dairy products use Ecolean packaging which is lightweight, light protected and flexible for waste reduction and storage minimisation. Rooms are furnished and decorated with eco-minded suppliers, such as Armadillo, Pony Rider and Seljac Brand.
Photo credit – Margaret River Retreat complimentary Oz-pig set up at your cabin.
The environment is a key focus for Margaret River Retreat, with the business’ intention being to continue to rehabilitate the natural watercourse and wetland areas with annual endemic plantings. Weed control management is documented for invasive plant species, such as Arum Lily and Sodden Melon, and waste management is also well managed: soft plastics are collected and recycled through an available soft plastics recycling program (e.g. Redcycle) and organic kitchen waste is composted or fed to domestic or farm animals. The retreat also plans to implement solar hot water systems and grey water systems on all existing bathroom and laundry amenities.
Billy Camp – Photo credit Margaret River Retreat
Finally, Margaret River Retreat benefits communities by partnering with SoapAid to collect, recycle and redistribute soap from the tourism accommodation industry to communities in need of hygiene education, and donates all of its near date food to the local Margaret River Soup Kitchen on a monthly basis.
Safari Camp – Photo credit Margaret River Retreat
Staff are offered a sustainable best practice guide upon confirmation of their employment agreement and given a tour of the property on the first day to introduce them to the property’s recycling systems, gardening, composting, worm farm, sustainable cleaning practices and other waste management practices.
Congratulations once again to Margaret River Retreat for achieving Ecotourism certification for their glamping village and studio rooms, and welcome to the Ecotourism Australia family!
Conversation with Xu Jing, independent tourism adviser & former Director of Asia and the Pacific, UNWTO
Over the past few months, it has become evident that the tourism sector is one of the hardest hit by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. With international travel coming to a complete halt and constantly changing border restrictions between Australian states, not to mention intrastate limitations on how far and in what way people are allowed to travel, it is sometimes hard to see how there can be a light at the end of this tunnel. Our Communications Manager, Lina Cronin, spoke to former Director of Asia and the Pacific at the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in Madrid to get an international perspective on the crisis and hear his thoughts on how the tourism sector has the opportunity to rise up to be more sustainable and responsible as a result of this pandemic.
EA: Xu Jing, thank you so much for taking the time to chat to Ecotourism Australia.
XJ: Good afternoon from sunny Madrid!
EA: Tourism around the world has stopped because of COVID-19. What impact has this had on livelihoods, particularly in developing countries?
XJ: The outbreak of the coronavirus into a global pandemic has hit the tourism industry much more severely than any crisis of any scale before it. In fact, the impact has been strongly felt in all facets of society, particularly in the informal sector of tourism and with the numerous SMEs [small to medium enterprises] in developing countries. For instance, it is believed that many small businesses in Phuket will barely survive if the crisis lasts for more than three months because they depend mainly on inbound international traffic. The same is true for island destinations like the Maldives and Fiji.
At the same time, it is heartening to note that despite the catastrophic setbacks, countries in South East Asia are making timely efforts to stimulate domestic tourism rather than waiting for the reopening of national borders, which in reality is beyond the control of their tourism administrations. Such actions may not be that beneficial to profit making, yet they are conducive to creating some sort of cash flow as well as saving jobs. It is also encouraging to see that for destinations with larger populations, such as China, summer bookings within the country have reached some 65-70 percent of capacity as compared with the previous year, according to latest industry reports.
EA: That is encouraging. As an industry professional, you’ve spent a large part of your career working in Europe. From what our members tell us, European travellers are often looking for more sustainable travel options. Do you think there is a growing expectation of sustainability from European travellers?
XJ: Tourism will no longer be the same after COVID-19, not just for the post-virus recovery period but also for the future. Tourism will be perceived differently when it comes to its definition, planning and development, as well as its promotion.
National tourism administrations and destinations are currently concerned about coming up with plans for the immediate recovery. Understandably so. But the long-term perspective of tourism, in my opinion, will most likely follow a trajectory of paying more attention to the social and humanistic factors of tourism as a result of the pandemic. Consequently, demand for products centred around achieving harmony with nature, being climate-friendly and focusing on sustainable production and consumption will be on the rise, particularly for more matured source markets such as Europe.
EA: How can the tourism sector use this COVID-19 induced downtime to build back better and be more sustainable in the future?
XJ: More than ever, we, as tourism professionals, must advocate the principle of sustainability in the planning and development as well as the management of tourism.
Over the years, we have had too many governments and enterprises developing large scale projects and construction of assets of volume under the excuse of embracing the high-growth tourism industry in the Asia-Pacific region. If we had had a greater focus on sustainability from the beginning instead of only pursuing profits, we might have been better placed to survive the current crisis. The original form of tourism after all is that of a family-based bed & breakfast. If there was only one thing we could change about our industry after the pandemic, I would say it would be to embrace the principle of “less is more” – this will aid the long-term health of our industry.
More strategically speaking, rethinking is needed to build tourism back better in order to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We need to rethink what our fundamental concept of developing tourism should be. I sincerely believe that tourism is about more than the basic enjoyment and rights of mankind. Tourism can and should be an effective means to achieve the SDGs set forth by the United Nations.
EA: Addressing climate change was a big topic in the tourism sector before COVID-19 hit. Do you still think this is as important now?
XJ: Tourism must be a force for good. The 8% CO2 emissions from the tourism industry are 8% too many! I am hopeful that we can turn this crisis into an opportunity whereby tourism can contribute more to the sustainable production of resources and consumption of goods and services.
More than ever, people now have a better understanding of the destructive nature of irresponsible travel behaviour. This pandemic has hit not just one country or one region but the entire planet earth. If we, as human beings, do not behave responsibly, including when we travel, then the whole planet is threatened.
I do think that as a result of this crisis and the increased awareness of climate change impacts, discussions will be on the rise on how to disperse tourism traffic to less visited and more remote areas, how to mitigate the negative impact of tourism on climate change and how to address the rethinking of mass tourism products.
EA: Do you believe tourism can contribute to a better world for people and planet?
XJ: As a whole, responsible tourism is part of a much bigger push toward sustainability, and this will be more tabled globally so that tourists can be encouraged to behave in more environmentally friendly ways and in harmony with nature. Industry players will have to align their products more towards slow-paced tourism and the public sector will be more encouraged to look at regional development as part and parcel of solving the issue of over-concentrated tourism.
As we speak, the global pandemic is still spreading like wildfire and when the health crisis has unfortunately gone beyond its original boundary into potential geopolitical conflicts, we must use tourism as a powerful force for peace, solidarity and mutual understanding among the peoples of the world. As early as in 1967, the United Nations declared the International Year of Tourism: Passport to Peace. I see no reason why, decades later, we should not continue to raise our flag high in advocating tourism as a vital force for peace, as stipulated in the Manila Declaration on World Tourism in 1980.
The COVID -19 and Transforming Tourism United Nations Secretary-General Policy Brief is now launched!
1. They don’t document their plans
Many small businesses rely on a couple of people running them. They have plans, but they are all in their heads. Documenting business plans and procedures is important to reduce risks and ensure business sustainability. Writing down your processes and strategies makes you think of what you’re doing (and what you’re not doing) so that you can make better decisions and more easily introduce someone new to the business.
Did you know? You get access to templates and examples of business, marketing, operational and environmental management plans when you register for Ecotourism Australia’s certifications.
2. They don’t mitigate risks
Risk assessment can be overlooked by small business owners who sometimes stick to very basic categories. It’s important to take the time to brainstorm, list and prioritise risks, and find strategies to mitigate them. A crisis is always overwhelming and brings a lot of things to think about, all at once. Having procedures and strategies that were prepared with a clear head without all the emotions and stress can help make better decisions when an incident happens.
3. They focus only on the environment
When talking about sustainability, it is, of course, fundamental to consider the environment. But sustainability isn’t just about being eco-friendly. Taking care of the planet is only one side of it, and a business isn’t sustainable if it doesn’t consider the three pillars: planet, profit and people. Businesses sometimes overlook the support they provide to the local community, any issues arising in the community and how they respect the local culture.
Did you know? If you’re an Australian nature-based business, you can register for our Quick ECO Scan and find out how you’re performing across the eight sections of the ECO Certification.
4. They stick to the basic requirements
Aiming too big and trying to do everything at once can be counterproductive. However, it’s also important not to settle for basic rules. Recycling and offsetting are good, but they don’t make a business sustainable. Sustainable businesses should aim at having practices that go further than what should be the norm and always have measures for continuous improvement in mind.
“In ecotourism, it’s not enough just to do no harm. It’s really by you being there, you are making the environment better.” – Rod Hillman, Ecotourism Australia CEO
5. They don’t engage with their staff in the process
Staff should be aware of the objectives of the business, as a minimum. But giving them opportunities to participate in developing the strategies and provide feedback on the implementation is the best way to have them engaged and use all the skills you can get to improve your practices. It can also be an excellent retention strategy as employees may find it important to make an impact and be heard and will be proud to be involved in your sustainability efforts. In The Sustainability Advantage (2002), a survey showed that 20% of employees were more likely to stay with their employers if they liked the business’ sustainability initiatives.
6. They don’t engage with their suppliers
It is complex to consider all the impacts of your supply chain, but can you really claim to be sustainable if you work with suppliers that aren’t taking care of the planet and their local communities?
Reviewing your suppliers’ credentials and policies and sending them your expectations or feedback so that they can improve their operations is important for your business sustainability. You should always consider the triple bottom line impacts (social, environmental, financial) when making purchasing decisions.
7. They don’t measure performance
There’s a common saying: “you cannot control what you don’t measure”. Businesses need performance indicators, not just a list of green initiatives. Can you claim that you reduce your waste if you don’t measure it? The same goes for carbon emissions, water or energy, to name a few.
Measuring can also help you focus on what’s important.
8. They don’t tell their story
There are no benefits from being quiet about your business’ sustainability efforts. Educating customers and all stakeholders about sustainability can have big positive impacts. Putting your efforts out there is also a way to formalise your commitment and inspire staff and other businesses. With more and more people and businesses aware of the importance of being sustainable, it can even become a selling point.
Did you know? Ecotourism Australia loves sharing their members’ stories. Once you are certified, make sure you share your news stories with us!
9. They expect quick results
Success never comes overnight, and that’s the same with sustainability success. Businesses that start the sustainability journey to get quick marketing results and more sales will be disappointed. Sustainability is a long-term journey with long-term benefits.
10. They don’t get audited
Audits are excellent to get expert feedback and improvement suggestions on your business’ operations. And they are also an excellent way to get efforts rewarded and gain trust from stakeholders that the business actually does what it says it does.
Did you know? Your certification with Ecotourism Australia includes regular audits with sustainable tourism experts who provide valuable feedback for your business.
“Our experience with our first Audit was made a pleasurable and encouraging experience. Fiona was professional, friendly and extremely helpful and reassuring. Her explanations and advice with each topic discussed was invaluable. We have found our business outside of the normal Ecotourism experience and her enthusiasm and advice to help us fine tune our experience and niches was invaluable. Thank you Fiona!” – Hook-A-Barra, Ecotourism certified, QLD (2019)
[Cover photo: Markus Spiske/Unsplash]
Thi Hieu Nguyen is one of the four candidates of the Ecotourism Australia – University of Queensland PhD scholarships, working on the topic of overtourism. We asked her why she chose this topic, whether overtourism is really an issue in a place like Australia and how our members can get involved in her research.
EA: Why were you interested in the topic of overtourism for your PhD?
THN: I love travelling and discovering new cultures and new places. I love to see scenic beauty, historic sites and observe wildlife. I also love meeting local people and hearing stories directly from passionate local residents. However, when I visited some destinations recently, I felt concerned and unhappy because the number of people created traffic congestion, long queues at entry gates and restaurants, increased noise and even more litter. As a curious person, I wish to understand the nature of ‘overtourism’ and contribute to addressing it.
EA: Is overtourism a big problem in Australia?
THN: Australian tourism destinations have not faced significant overtourism like that which occurs in European cities (like Venice and Barcelona). However, many destinations such as Kangaroo Island, Philip Island, Byron Bay and Tasmania have been reported as having the initial symptoms of overtourism. A tourism-related backlash has resulted at some destinations. For instance, thousands of Tasmanian citizens protested a proposed cable car for Mount Wellington near Hobart. I think if we do not have appropriate responses now, the issue will become more serious at many destinations, particularly after COVID-19, when the demand for Australia-based travel may be much higher than before and domestic tourists flock to nature-based destinations.
EA: What impact does overtourism have on the visitor experience?
THN: The common symptoms of overtourism are overcrowding and service worker stress, and the consequent anti-tourist backlash. Queues, crowding, traffic congestion or simply annoyance at large numbers of people can reduce tourists’ enjoyment of destinations, and also impact on the quality of life of local residents. Tourists are potential losers here, because of the anti-tourism sentiment which may lead to poor service, hostility and locals’ refusal to interact with tourists.
EA: What other impacts can overtourism have on local residents?
THN: A number of adverse effects on locals’ lives, livelihoods and lifestyles may result from overtourism due to locals’ loss of a sense of belonging to community, higher costs of living, restrictions on locals for access to services, increases in privatisation of public spaces, along with traffic congestion, noise pollution, inappropriate visitor behaviour, crime and vandalism, and so forth. In many cities, such as Venice, Barcelona, and Dubrovnik, tourists displace local residents and locals move to other places to escape the tourist influx. Overtourism together with commodification may also impact on the maintenance and authenticity of locals’ cultures and traditions.
EA: What is your plan for researching overtourism in Australia?
THN: I am now scoping my research and selecting my research case study – a nature-based destination that has been documented with symptoms of overtourism. I plan to explore the process whereby local residents at a nature-based tourism destination make their decisions regarding tourism development. My research will investigate the influence of overtourism on local people’s quality of life from the perspective of the local people, using a qualitative data collection methodology. I aim to ask how local people behave and cope with the effects of tourism and overtourism and investigate what factors impact on their decisions regarding behavioural responses and actions. I hope that my research will not only fill the gap in research on tourism in protected areas but also contribute to the sustainability of nature-based tourism in Australia.
EA: Will there be a way for Ecotourism Australia members to get involved in your research?
THN: The involvement and support of Ecotourism Australia members is very important for my research. For the first stage of my PhD candidature, I hope that EA members can help me to identify suitable research sites and provide relevant contacts to help me prepare for field work in 2021. EA members may also become participants in my fieldwork. I also hope EA members can give me their comments on my research design and my study findings to ensure the practical application and usefulness of my findings.
[Header image: Venice by Margarit Ralev / FreeImages.com]
The disruption of the hospitality and tourism industry by COVID-19 has led to a drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. While the decline in greenhouse gas emissions benefits the environment, lockdowns and social distancing are not viable long-term strategies to combat global warming. Effective long-term strategies involve tourism businesses assessing and reducing carbon emissions generated by their operations.
Understandably, the current focus of every tourism business is to reopen and start generating revenue again. We argue that right now, as the industry starts to reopen, it is the perfect time to assess the carbon emissions of business operations and determine which operations can be modified to reduce emissions and, at the same time, operating costs into the future.
Dr. Ya-Yen Sun from The University of Queensland and colleagues published a study in the prestigious journal Nature Climate Change in 2018 showing that tourism contributes eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The study indicated that to reduce tourism’s carbon footprint, efforts are required to address both direct and indirect emissions.
Direct emissions are caused by a tourism business, for example from the fuel used to run a boat. Indirect emissions are emissions produced by suppliers of tourism businesses, such as the energy used by local restaurants to make food and drinks that are consumed on-board, during a tour.
Calculating carbon emissions caused directly by tourism businesses, therefore, only reveals a portion of the complete impact, given that supply chain emissions are typically greater than direct emissions. Yet, no user-friendly tool is currently available to tourism operators that would allow them to calculate the indirect, life-cycle related greenhouse gas emissions their processes cause.
Our research project addresses these challenges, and the resulting insights will enable tourism operators to evaluate the indirect carbon emissions of their services – a process that to date is complex and cost prohibitive for most businesses.
With a slow reopening of tourism and continued forced downtime for some operators, the tourism industry can use this time to evaluate the sustainability of its tourism practices. Just like Ecotourism Australia members do through their certification, these are the times operators and tourism businesses can ask themselves questions like: How can we conserve resources? Are we using local suppliers? Are we purchasing organic and environmentally responsible products? Are we doing our best to minimise waste? Do we have a process for monitoring and auditing compliance with best practice? Are there any local conservation projects that our business might get involved with?
Putting sustainability into practice during COVID-19 will enable tourism operators to return to business as usual with a more sustainable operating model. Sustainable business models and practices lead not just to lower operational costs but also create value by contributing to the advancement of society environmentally and socially.
[Cover photo: Ocean Safari Cape Tribulation is Advanced Ecotourism certified, and reducing emissions from their adventure tours is essential given their location between two World Heritage sites – the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics of Queensland]
Ecotourism Australia is proud to welcome its newest member, Lord Howe Environmental Tours, into the family and offer congratulations to their recent achievement of reaching Ecotourism Certification for their Coral Viewing and Snorkelling Tour, Ultimate Snorkelling Tour and Mt Gower Trek.
Family-run Lord Howe Environmental Tours was established in 1998 and operates on the World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island. The island is located approximately 600 kilometres off the north coast of New South Wales and is accessible via a two-hour direct flight from either Sydney or Brisbane. Lord Howe Island is the epitome of Australia’s natural landscape and offers visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in unspoilt island living while exploring from the top of the mountain range to the coral gardens of the world’s southernmost reefs.
Lord Howe Environmental Tours understands tourists might wonder where to begin an adventure when visiting an island with geological origins which date back over seven million years. How better to learn about the unique natural history than with a specialist 3rd generation team who share not just what they have learnt as a leading tourism operator but, more specifically, what they live every day? It reaches a whole new level of local knowledge when visitors learn that the cultural history of this island isn’t necessarily documented but rather passed down orally through the generations. It really doesn’t get more authentic and specialised than that!
Lord Howe Environmental Tours is led by Dean and Roslyn Hiscox. Dean is director and a passionate naturalist whose experience is founded on a 16-year tenure as a board ranger, where he managed the island’s natural environment. Roslyn, also a director and Dean’s wife, is a fifth-generation islander who is passionate about encompassing nature, culture and the island’s unique historical story into their signature tours. Kayla and Darcelle are both 6th generation islanders and sharing their love of the island’s rich and diverse ecosystem is embedded in their DNA.
During the flight to Lord Howe Island visitors receive essential information regarding the compulsory environmental management of the Marine Park and the Permanent Park Reserve (national park) – routines which are a mandatory requirement for those living and operating businesses on the World Heritage-listed island. For example, the broader community have achieved an 86% diversion of waste from landfill by introducing compulsory recycling, pushbikes are the main transport method around the island and visitors and locals can be involved in a conservation volunteers program for important research projects.
Lord Howe Island only permits 400 visitors to the island at one time and Lord Howe Environmental Tours has developed a range of tours and itineraries, which include seasonal recommendations and feature the migrating pattern of millions of seabirds. There are a range of options which are specifically designed to ensure guests experience the natural value and beauty of the island while identifying with the need to continually protect its diversity and preservation.
Visitors quickly get a sense of how proud and excited these operators are to show visitors their island. A trek to Mount Gower, the highest point of the island, is recognised as one of the Australia’s top day walks. With elevated views of surrounding Balls Pyramid, Mt Lidgbird, the coral reef lagoon and the north settlement area are a well-earned reward for reaching the summit of 875 metres. Visitors can enjoy the unique fauna of the region, including the Lord Howe Woodhen, Golden Whistler, Silvereye and Currawong inhabiting the mist forest with ferns, orchids, trees and mosses not seen anywhere else in the world. With the trek taking approximately five hours to reach the summit and four hours to descend it’s easy to see why committing to this day trip isn’t a decision to be taken lightly.
A visit to the island wouldn’t be complete without marvelling at the diversity of the seascape found in the lagoons. In-depth interpretations introduce visitors to over 80 species of coral and 500 species of fish including the yellowtail, kingfish, bluefish, marlin, tuna and hundreds of species of tropical fish which can be enjoyed by people of all ages from the comfort of the glass bottom boat. Those who are after a bit more of a hands-on learning experience can enjoy two hrs exploring the calm and pristine waters by joining one of the snorkelling tours which visit four thriving locations within the lagoons. Plan to visit during the summer months and join the night snorkel where, thanks to the specialised underwater torches, the coral is highlighted in all its florescence glory.
In between tours there are opportunities to walk or cycle around the island, enjoy a picnic or dine at one of the local cafés, be treated to a massage or set out on a kayak or paddle board.
Responsible travellers can be confident in the ethical foundation of the Lord Howe Environmental Tours as three of the team are responsible for reviewing and updating the Lord Howe Island Biodiversity Management Plan and two team members sit on the Lord Howe Island Marine Park Advisory Committee as well as being involved in reviewing the Lord Howe Island Marine Park Operation Plan. Ecotourism Australia is proud to be partnering with such a dedicated contributor to the tourism industry and a company which holds the protection of national biodiversity, while providing positive natural immersion experiences to visitors, at its core.
[All images thanks to Lord Howe Environmental Tours.]