Shane O'Reilly is the managing director of the Eco-Tourism-Australia-certified O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in Canungra, Queensland. He and several other delegates from the Global Eco Asia-Pacific Tourism Conference came to Townsville not only to learn and be inspired, but also to climb its notable, but not-so-high peak in the town, Castle Hill.
Perhaps they all were inspired after hearing renowned Australian mountain climber Michael Groom’s story of perseverance. Groom shared a sometimes painful and tragic tale of his journey climbing mountains across the globe. His love for nature started at birth; he grew up on an eco lodge.
The event is the world’s oldest ecotourism conference, with delegates from across the world. Hosted by Eco Tourism Australia, the not-for-profit defines eco tourism as "ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation."
Conservation, growth, sustainability, Indigneous tourism, the coral reef and even eco architectural design and plumbing were discussed.
The words “global warming” and “climate change” were certainly the lips of speakers.
Tourism operators, accommodation providers, Indigenous bodies, protected area managers, academics, researchers and government workers discussed sustainability, responsible tourism and best practice initiatives.
From hosting the conference to certifying their members, Eco Tourism Australia do quite a bit, particularly for being a team of four.
“Eco tourism has grown,” conference convener Tony Charters says. “There are other certification schemes around, but very few are as comprehensive as [ours].”
Charters is a trained environmental scientist and one of the founding directors of Eco Tourism Australia. He said the organisation’s certification scheme has delivered positive results in the tourism industry; a disproportionally large numbers of winners of tourism awards across Australia have their eco certification.
The Eco Tourism website reads “the conference aims to create opportunities for business-to-business and business-to-government collaboration, focused on practical and applied ecotourism. Keynote speakers drive discussions across the key thematic areas and specialised masterclasses and workshops enable delegates to maximise their investment.”
From campervans to whale watching, no adventure was left undiscussed. Themes included over tourism in Tasmania, straw elimination, the importance of kids’ education and the importance of local employment.
Naturally the Great Barrier Reef was a big topic.
“Demand action,” CSIRO social scientist Matt Curnock said, summing up the sentiments of many experts who are worried about the future of the national treasure.
The ideas, the problems and solutions suggestions might have overwhelmed at times, but one thread was undeniable, and many people repeated it.
“We do not inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children.”
The guidelines and results of eco tourism are still being determined, but the talented and concerned experts on board hopefully spell good things for the tourism industry and also our planet.
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