In this interview with Kelly Bricker, we learn about ecotourism and sustainable tourism. As Vice-Chair of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), Professor and Department Chair at the University of Utah, and President of the International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Kelly has gained – and shares with us – invaluable insights into the promising yet challenging world of tourism sustainability.
- How perceptions of sustainable tourism and ecotourism have changed over time;
- The main challenges at the moment, regarding tourism sustainability;
- Kelly Bricker’s key insights as sustainable tourism advisor, academic, and from her involvement with The International Ecotourism Society (TIES);
- Her most memorable moments as President of TIES, and the day-to-day challenges of leading a non-profit organization.
Kelly, do you remember the first time you heard about ecotourism? What got you interested in tourism and sustainability?
While I had been involved in nature-based tourism through marine programs in the British Virgin Islands and Florida Keys, I really first learned of ecotourism through TIES, back when TIES was The Ecotourism Society (TES).
My husband and I were working for Sobek Expeditions (now Mtn Travel Sobek) overseas and one of the employees for Sobek at the time was involved in TES as an Advisory Board Member, her name was Leslie Jarvie. Leslie unfortunately passed at a very young age, but certainly was a dedicated advocate and my link to TES, and invited me to a board meeting in Washington DC during the very early days. After attending the meeting, I joined and started to receive the then, paper newsletter.
As we had traveled over the years for Sobek and then Sobek Travel Group, then World Heritage, we began to see patterns in the places we visited. In some places, tourism appeared to help a destination, the environment and local communities. In other places, tourism did the exact opposite—areas where you saw tourism degrade and devastate areas and destinations.
Ecotourism, based on what I was learning from TIES, was a strategy and tool for conservation and improving the quality of life for local people.
After working in the adventure travel realm for nearly 10 years, I headed back to school to study what sustainable tourism and ecotourism were all about, and to apply the first-hand experiences we had in the field.
So in 1994 I went back for a PhD and began my academic journey in unpacking these concepts and observations. The academic side provided opportunities to learn about how to study these impacts, and how to objectively evaluate.
My minor in geography also introduced me to how other disciplines viewed tourism—not always so positively. This fuelled my interest in finding ways to utilize the economic power of tourism to effect positive change.