Latest news and insights from various sources relating to UN Sustainable Development Goals.

MEDIA RELEASE | SIX BUSHFIRE REGIONS RECEIVE SUPPORT TO BUILD BACK BETTER

Six additional bushfire-affected destinations will receive support to build back better and revitalise their local economies through nature-based tourism, thanks to a new partnership between Ecotourism Australia and WWF-Australia.

The Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Coffs Harbour, and Port Macquarie-Hastings in New South Wales, Kangaroo Island in South Australia, and Scenic Rim in South East Queensland will benefit from the partnership and begin their journey to become certified ECO Destinations.

Each destination will be supported by WWF-Australia with a two-year $30,000 package that covers all costs to progress through Ecotourism Australia’s ECO Destination program.

Ecotourism Australia’s Chief Executive Rod Hillman said he was delighted to have the six new destinations join East Gippsland in Victoria and Quandamooka Country in Queensland in the program.

“We are working hard to support our tourism industry that has been hit hard in 2020 by bushfires and COVID and can see tangible benefits for regional tourism through this funding program,” he said.

WWF-Australia’s CEO Dermot O’Gorman said the partnership would help to restore the local economies in bushfire-affected destinations.

“The devasting double blow of the fires and pandemic has left many communities that depend on tourism hurting like never before. This partnership will help Australia’s nature-based tourism sector get back on its feet and support tourism activities that are good for both people and the environment,” he said.

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill said he was incredibly proud that the region will be recognised as a world-class ecotourism destination.

“This certification will help us effectively promote our region to the increasing proportion of travellers who are hungry for sustainable travel experiences. It’s the stamp of approval that we are who we say we are – an authentic destination for environmentally aware visitors,” he said.

Fiona Barden from Coffs Harbour City Council said “obtaining ECO Destination status for Coffs Coast will enable our destination, the communities, environments and values, to thrive through long-term sustainable tourism management.

“By working together with our key stakeholders, businesses and communities we can unite in the importance of becoming an ECO Destination, and deliver multiple benefits for our people and places,” she said.

Scenic Rim Regional Council endorsed the partnership with EA and WWF-Australia with Mayor Greg Christensen commenting the offer represented a tremendous opportunity for the region.

“By becoming a Certified ECO Destination, the Scenic Rim will join an established global network of like-minded destinations striving for ecotourism excellence,” he said.

“ECO Destination Certification has previously been identified as a goal for the Scenic Rim and would enhance our region’s tourism offering and credentials, broadening our appeal to the visitors we wish to attract – those who value sustainability and minimal impacts on the natural environment.”

Central Coast Council Mayor Lisa Matthews said the program will play a key role in the Central Coast’s future as a tourism hub.

“This has been a year of unprecedented challenges and the Central Coast is excited to be working with Ecotourism Australia to ensure nature and ecotourism flourishes in our region and plays an important role in our recovery and our future as a tourist destination,” she said.

With the demand for sustainable travel experiences growing worldwide, Mr Hillman said “the ECO Destination Certification program assures travellers that certified destinations are backed by a strong, well-managed commitment to sustainable practices and provide high-quality nature-based tourism experiences within the region.”

 

For questions and comments, please contact:

Ingrid Huitema – Communications and Marketing, Ecotourism Australia
0408 112 728 / [email protected]

WELCOME ONBOARD FRASER ISLAND BOAT CHARTERS

Congratulations to our newest certified operator, Fraser Island Boat Charters, for achieving ECO Certification at the Ecotourism level for its Bareboating Yacht Hire, Skippered Charters and Big Woody Island Tours.

Fraser Island Charter Boats operates throughout the Great Sandy Strait and their charter area stretches as far north as Rooney Point off K’gari (Fraser Island) and south through the straits to Inskip Point.

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With Bareboat Yacht Hire you can explore the waters of the Great Sandy Strait at your own pace for a unique holiday. Or if you just want to sit back and relax. They also offer private skippered charters including full catering options.

The tourism experience run by Fraser Island Boat Charters features a focus on awareness of the rich natural assets on the Fraser Coast and aims to utilise this awareness in minimising their impact on the Great Sandy Marine Park.

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Given they operate small vessels, with a maximum of 32 people for a day charter and 10 for an overnight charter, they can significantly reduce their long term impacts on the local environment. The company has also installed solar on their charters to reduce their energy consumption.

Fraser Island Charter Boats contribute to the conservation objectives of the Great Sandy Marine Park by informing guests through both interpretive talks and reading materials on how to protect and conserve marine species and ecosystems, particularly throughout the winter season when the humpbacks whales visit the Hervey Bay region.

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Congratulations once again to Fraser Island Boat Charters for achieving ECO Ecotourism certification and welcome to the Ecotourism Australia family!

For more information about Fraser Island Boat Charters visit their website or Facebook page.

ECOTOURISM AUSTRALIA’S REVISED COMPLIANCE MANAGEMENT POLICY

Ecotourism Australia (EA) is always looking for opportunities to improve its certification programs. After moving its certification application online in 2019, Ecotourism Australia has looked at how to improve its auditing process for its ECO, Climate Action (CA) and Respecting Our Culture (ROC) Certification programs.

A series of online audits were successfully conducted in August/September 2020. The online format presents many advantages for all parties involved in the audit process (the operators, the auditors and EA), and is well-aligned with our objective of reducing our carbon emissions. Hence, EA has decided to revise its compliance management policy to include online audits as a form of compliance verification for the ECO, CA and ROC Certification programs.

Whether they are conducted onsite or online, audits are a constructive process that gives certified operators an excellent opportunity to showcase their great initiatives and receive feedback from an ecotourism expert on their operations. For the ECO, CA and ROC Certification programs, conducting an audit includes:

–        A desktop review of the documentation required for certification;

–        A review of online customer feedback;

–        Interviews with at least one key staff member and/or guide;

–        A site/vehicle/vessel inspection (virtual for online audits).

The trial has helped identify some instances when an online audit would be preferable over an onsite audit, and vice versa. The compliance management policy was updated to:

–        Replace the initial desktop assessment by an audit (online or onsite);

–        Conduct online audits with virtual visits when:

  • The head office and the facilities or tour vehicle/vessels are not in the same location; or
  • The operator has previously had a successful onsite audit (certification maintained or corrective actions completed); or
  • The operator is in a remote location (including islands, 4WD access only, no nearby airport with direct flights from a capital city).

–        Conduct onsite audits when:

  • An operator has never been audited onsite, and an auditor is available for onsite audits in their region; or
  • The previous audit has identified major corrective actions related to the business’ operations (this does not include corrective actions related to the business documentation) and recommended the next audit to be done onsite again; or
  • An auditor conducts an online audit and identifies a potential major compliance issue that cannot be verified during an online audit; or
  • An operator requests an onsite audit (travel fees may apply); or
  • A park agency requests an onsite audit (travel fees may apply).

These changes will provide more flexibility and fewer disruptions for EA’s certified operators. Over time, operators will also benefit from additional continuous improvement opportunities. For example, operators will receive feedback from auditors with different expertise in ecotourism topics as online audits do not have to be regionally-assigned. Staff members from various locations – even remote – can now join online audits and do virtual tours, which can help the auditor to assess compliance across the entire business activities.

With EA’s online portal launched in 2019, auditors now have easy access to operators’ documentation. It reduces the time spent on reviewing documentation during the audit so that the discussion can be more focused on operations.

Audits are an important part of EA’s certification process. These positive changes will allow us to better support our members while increasing our compliance assurance.

View the updated compliance management policy here.

 

For questions and comments, contact Eloise Touchot, Certification Manager at [email protected].

 

LOW CARBON DIET AT MT BARNEY

Sustainability is crucial when assessing financial, environmental and social impacts of an organisation. Some sustainable choices are cost effective, community empowering and environmentally friendly, but it is often seen as a long-term strategy.

For some it is a mindset shift to prioritise responsible long-term decisions over short term gain. Some stress that governments are the only organisations that can make real changes and normalize beneficial behaviours. Maybe both assumptions are correct. After all, we can’t do it alone.

In the meantime, innovative minds have been shifting their business models or changing their diet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One of our Advanced Ecotourism certified members here in Australia, understands that resilience and sustainability is an imperative for the success of his business.

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Ecotourism Australia interviewed Innes Larkin, Founder and CEO of award-winning Mt Barney Lodge.

Innes and his family are actively engaged in supporting the welfare of their community and work closely with the local council.

They are involved in an array of environmental projects and think globally and act locally in the Scenic Rim.

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Ecotourism Australia (EA): With a history of environmental involvement in your community you and your family have been increasing your commitment to sustainability through diverse methods. Recently, you started reducing your carbon footprint by selectively choosing your food and beverage suppliers, how do you do that?

Innes Larkin (IL): In 2015 Tracey Larkin organised a grant which then got 10-20 tourism businesses in the Scenic Rim to participate, it was facilitated by the Ethos Foundation and the winner was awarded a free Ecotourism Australia application fee for certification. Mount Barney Lodge abstained from the competition as we were the organisers and were already EA members. The grant was mostly about food.

We coined the term SLAPPPED – as if we had just slapped a meal together as a way of softly starting the conversation. It stands for Sustainable, Locally Sourced, Australian grown, owned or made, Palm oil free, Plastic free, Plant based, Environmentally friendly, Delicious.

We have since gone even further with the SLAPPPED acronym and other measures.

EA: Do you use a specific platform, or do you look for suppliers yourself (online, word of mouth, media, NGOs)?

IL: We do our own research but using SLAPPPED as the criteria. We start with local providers, ask them if they have what we’re looking for and then only get products from multinational providers when we have no local option.

EA: Local products can be expensive, is the price difference included in visitor fees or is it covered through absorption costing methods by the business?

IL: A bit of both, some products can be cheaper and sometimes they’re not. Our price has not gone up since we introduced this SLAPPPED. We know our business is working harder within the local economy and is becoming a positive by-product.

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EA: In order to explain that purchasing local products is worth doing, either financially speaking or through the visitor experience, what key words would come to mind?

IL: It comes down to your business philosophy. We see our business as an extension of our personal philosophies so there is no point in finding the cheapest product if that money does not help our region. “Living local economies” is what we are aiming for. 

EA: As a tourism business owner, what would simplify your task when ordering local / organic food and beverage?

IL: Our council Scenic Rim Regional Council has been proactive in promoting eat and buy local. We can learn heaps by just being engaged!

If each council was asked to include eat local spreadsheets, local initiatives and local product contacts, this could help the tourism industry to adapt easily.

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EA: On your website, you showcase a permaculture garden that you and your family built during the COVID-19 lockdown, this seems like a wonderful idea, as it reuses your composted food scraps to feed soil biology and capture carbon while providing organic food for your Lodge and adds an attractive feature to your business. How long did it take to design/build and who is maintaining it? 

IL: The clearing of the site, and building took us probably one full week of work with help from Tracey and Connor. The planting is Tracey’s baby and all green maintenance is also her passion, but if there is construction maintenance, that will come back to me or the outdoor team.

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EA: Building soil and planting could be a carbon offsetting program for visitors, what comes to mind that could make this difficult to achieve? Costs, visitor interest, carbon footprint calculation?

IL: I think visitor interest is growing but most of these activities are being done by us because we love them, not because we want to calculate the carbon offsetting amount. I would say that there is a lot of things we do (composting, recycling of waste, plastic bag recycling, gardening) without calculating the actual carbon return but are just doing it for the positive benefits and because it’s fun!

EA: What’s next on your agenda?

IL: We are working with multiple stakeholders to improve our bushfire resilience in the Scenic Rim and researching better water reliability and availability.

EA: Any advice to other tourism business operators?

IL: Sustainability is a continuing journey, allow yourself the time and priority to just do it. Educate your guests on what you are doing as their enthusiasm will stimulate your enthusiasm. Get involved with your local community, participate in workshops and cooperate with other businesses!

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Mt Barney Lodge team is committed to sustainability so Innes and his team added a ‘buy local’ policy. Some of their major initiatives include:

  • Waste management: all green waste generated on a 60km round trip is carted by the business and guests receive explanations about sustainability efforts implemented by the Larkin family and their staff;
  • Food: increase onsite food production through the permaculture garden; reuse green waste (compost) to improve soil organic carbon content in the property; reduce meat portions in the menu and introduce vegetarian options with locally grown produce;
  • Transport: change vehicle usage habits through carpooling, central parking location and limiting vehicle usage on site.
  • Bushfire resilience: after the 2019 bushfires, ‘Barney Bonds’ were released for people to be able to come back after fires. Mt Barney Lodge also contributed to and was featured in the Australian Bushfire and Climate Plan (2020).

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If you would like to know more about the direct and indirect costs of food production on human health and the environment, have a look at these two articles (UN environmental programme):

 

For more information visit Mt Barney Lodge’s website.

 

[Images: Mt Barney Lodge]