10 MISTAKES SMALL BUSINESSES MAKE WHEN STARTING THEIR SUSTAINABILITY JOURNEY

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.

Forest Walktrail

Caring for the environment is only one aspect of running a sustainable business. Ecotourism Australia certified operators like Pemberton Discovery Tours look at all aspects of sustainability for their business. / Photo: Pemberton Discovery Tours (Advanced Ecotourism certified)

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.

Kingfisher Tours WA Kimberley Coastal Camp Food

It’s important to work with suppliers who share your values. / Photo: Kingfisher Tours (Ecotourism and ROC certified)

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.

Cairns Adventure Group QLD Nature Tours 1 10 mistakes article

Don’t be shy about sharing your business’ sustainability initiatives with your guests and other stakeholders – they may be more interested than you think! / Photo: Cairns Adventure Group (Ecotourism & Climate Action Business certified)

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]

 

ECOTOURISM PHD UPDATE: OVERTOURISM IN THE AUSTRALIAN CONTEXT

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.

 

To get involved in Hieu’s research, please get in touch with the Ecotourism Australia team: [email protected]. To find out more about Hieu, check out her profile here.

 

 

[Header image: Venice by Margarit Ralev / FreeImages.com]

 

WHAT KINDS OF EMISSIONS ARE YOU GENERATING? AND CAN YOU CHANGE THEM?

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.

Maui Britz Mighty Motorhome Campervan Rentals 6

Often people only think of direct emissions related to travel, like fuel. But indirect emissions also need to be taken into account. / Photo: Maui, Britz & Mighty Motorhome & Campervan Rentals (Nature Tourism certified)

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.

Tanja Lagoon Camp NSW Accommodation 4

Offering local products can help to reduce food-related emissions. Mimosa Wines is located 16km from Tanja Lagoon Camp. / Photo: Tanja Lagoon Camp (Ecotourism certified)

 

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.

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Busselton Jetty used Plastic Free July to educate people about using more sustainable household products. / Photo: Busselton Jetty (Ecotourism certified)

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 CERTIFICATION FOR LORD HOWE ENVIRONMENTAL TOURS

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. 

LHET Specialty Snorkelling Tour

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.

LHET mt gower trek 

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.

LHET Mt Gower Trek View

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. 

LHET coral viewing overview

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.

LHET Coral Viewing

 

For more information about Lord Howe Environmental Tours, visit their website or Facebook page

[All images thanks to Lord Howe Environmental Tours.]

 

 

ECOTOURISM RECOVERY IN TIMES OF COVID-19

We are currently facing an unprecedented global health crisis, with repercussions that are being felt in all sectors of society and the economy, especially in the tourism sector. However, at moments like this it is important to remember that tourism has shown a strong resilience to adapt, innovate and recuperate from adversity and we should get prepared for recovery.

At an initial phase, domestic and intraregional tourism is expected to catch up faster than intercontinental travel. The impacts of actions such as restriction of movements have contributed to international tourism coming to a standstill and therefore many tourists are considering alternatives such as travelling closer to home while finding simple pleasures and reducing carbon emissions.

In addition to the growing tourism demand for more sustainable options, it is important to consider post COVID-19 trends such as the preference of travellers for outdoor activities such as long-distance walking activities, taking holidays in their home country, and considering the environment and travel emissions when travelling.

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Photo: Parks Australia

Booking.com’s 2019 Annual Sustainable Travel Report found that ‘sustainable stays are growing in popularity, with almost three quarters (73%) of global travellers intending to stay at least once in an eco-friendly or green accommodation when looking at the year ahead’.

These new and past trends represent benefits for the recovery of the ecotourism sector, which is founded on sustainability and looking towards partnerships and adaptation actions. We are happy to see that many of our members have been putting into action the ideas outlined in the UNWTO COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Technical Assistance Package.

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Photo: Crystal Creek Meadows

We would like to highlight the following examples and encourage tour operators to continue with their recovery plan:

  1. Parks Australia have been helping travellers to imagine their future travel experience by providing expert advice and recommendations to inspire future planning and instil confidence in trip decisions. This aligns with UNWTO’s statement: “Stay home today. Travel tomorrow.”.
  2. Crystal Creek Meadows Luxury Cottages & Day Spa Retreat have been an example of using social media to notify guests about safety procedures.  Informing guests about existing protocols in an easy and updated manner reassures travellers that they can get back to travelling with confidence.
  3. South Australia has been leader in designing a domestic tourism marketing strategy which identifies products and destinations particularly appealing to different segments of the domestic market. Understanding what domestic travellers want and love; e.g. food, adventure, and romance, etc. helps to customize their online experience.
  4. Ocean Rafting has focused on raising awareness of local experiences for local travellers, aiming to educate and familiarize locals about the importance of domestic tourism to accelerate recovery.
Ocean Rafting COVID article

Photo: Ocean Rafting

Congratulations to our members for their recovery actions and for being an example to others. 

 

 

[Header image: Kosciuszko National Park by Steve Bruce/Unsplash]

 

 

ECOTOURISM PHD UPDATE: XIMENA PARTICIPATES IN GSTC TRAINING COURSE

Ximena Alvis is one of the four candidates of the Ecotourism Australia – University of Queensland PhD scholarships, working on the sustainable destinations topic. Ximena just finished the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) Sustainable Tourism Training Program (STTP) as part of her PhD’s research phase and shares her thoughts on this course that she says offers practical insights and effective steps to help participants improve their sustainability practices.

EA: Why did you decide to take part in this training?

XA: I always wanted to do the GSTC course but now it seemed even more appropriate to understand how the criteria works, especially the destination criteria, as this is my PhD topic. I believe having a better understanding of the value of these principles and criteria will help me understand the whole picture, and how important the engagement of stakeholders is in a destination in order to have a long but successful journey of sustainability.

EA: Who is the Global Sustainable Tourism Council?

XA: As per the GSTC website: “The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) establishes and manages global sustainable standards, known as the GSTC Criteria. There are two sets: Destination Criteria for public policy-makers and destination managers, and Industry Criteria for hotels and tour operators. These are the guiding principles and minimum requirements that any tourism business or destination should aspire to reach in order to protect and sustain the world’s natural and cultural resources, while ensuring tourism meets its potential as a tool for conservation and poverty alleviation.” (GSTC website: www.gstcouncil.org/about/about-us/)

EA: Who participates in GSTC’s Sustainable Tourism Training Program?

XA: In the one month online course that I took, there were over 40 participants from all over the world, and from different parts of the tourism industry: tour operators, hotel personnel, government officials, students, tourism consultants, entrepreneurs, academics, and more. The course was eye opening in many ways. For example, the course gave us the opportunity to keep updated with the topic of sustainable tourism and the efforts that organizations, governments, the industry and academics are making. We also learnt how sustainability helps ‘Build Back Better’ and can help improve the way tourism is working. There is recognition that sustainability is a long but necessary journey to take on, especially in this COVID era.

EA: What kinds of topics did the course cover?

XA: The course gave an overview of the sustainable tourism principles and the roles of the GSTC in promoting the adoption of those principles, as well as key considerations for addressing sustainability challenges. These include stakeholder engagement, education, communications, capacity building, environmental impacts, visitor satisfaction and how to ensure local culture and traditions are incorporated into visitor experiences in a respectful manner.

EA: Would you recommend this training program to others?

XA: I would highly recommend Ecotourism Australia members to take the course if they haven’t already. It is a great opportunity to make new professional contacts with people that have the same sustainable goals as EA members, and to keep updated with information and new discoveries in the sustainable world.


Course details:

The GSTC Certificate in Sustainable Tourism runs 5 to 6 times a year, the training classes are twice a week (1 hour per day) in a 4-week online course. The cost depends in membership and time of enrolment, from US$ 395 to US$ 495. For more information visit: www.gstcouncil.org/sustainable-tourism-training/ or contact [email protected]