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].