While the 2016 TIES Ecotourism & Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC) took place over a month ago, the impacts of the important synergies and connections continue to grow and spread, like a ripple effect. To explore this further, Deby Stabler takes us on a virtual trip around North America to explore how conferences shape our journey.
Meeting new people and sharing different perspectives, finding inspiration and increasing awareness, breaking down stereotypes and building bridges–this is why we travel. This is also the work of those in the ecotourism and responsible tourism industry. The Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference – North America (ESTCNA) brought all of this together in early 2016 at the University of South Florida Patel College of Global Sustainability (PCGS).
In the opening sessions, a quote by Mark Twain echoed the reason so many traveled to the conference
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
The first check-in is in Canada with Russell Krasnuik, Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership Instructor at Medicine Hat College in Alberta, who has just returned from the beautiful Canadian Rockies to prepare for upcoming classroom work. He says,
“Future trends are based on historical outdoor leadership business success stories, of which Canada has many, such as G Adventures.”
Krasnuik leads a collaborative network for nature based tourism called Good Thinking Outdoors. At ESTC, he showed a Medicine Hat outdoor recreation map with integrated interpretive information. Krasnuik also talked about the way thinking changes while in nature, and how to instill creativity, communication, and collaboration in his students. His work helps develop our future leaders, as well as the future of ecotourism.
Krasnuik adds, “It’s my vision from an educational facilitation context that leading companies will continue to create ‘nature standards of care’ integrating technologies, social community engagement, habitat conservation, and economic balance…rather than profit sharing or building a business case extracting from the environment.”
Next we check in Dr. Kelly Bricker in Utah. As Professor and Chair of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism at the University of Utah; Chair of The International Ecotourism Society; and Vice Chair/Treasurer of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, Dr. Bricker is very active in advancing the sustainability of the tourism industry. Her work includes prioritizing awareness of the impacts we have on the planet and its people, and ensuring tourism is managed and developed in a way that effects positive change.
“Moving onward to future ESTC’s – it appears continuous evaluation and research into what is working and what is not remains of key importance. Lessons learned have served us well, yet we need to continue to monitor these successes and challenges, and share them continuously.”
At the conference Dr. Bricker delivered a moving keynote presentation, highlighting her work and photos from around the world and capped off with a Rivers of Eden video about Rivers Fiji, which served as a call to action for participants.
She says “The ESTC-Tampa was inspiring and full of excellent content this year. Our goal was to address issues critical to ecotourism in North America, yet learning from individuals from around the globe. From an awareness of planetary boundaries uniting sustainable design and management, to the importance of educating all stakeholders on our dependency on conserving ecosystems for health and well-being, to identifying bottom up approaches to engagement and support, and ethical treatment of wildlife; ecotourism united attendees in solution oriented concepts. Underlying many of these discussions was a focus on sustainable production and consumption concepts, exploring ways to source food locally, alternative energy (biofuels), and sustainable financing mechanisms for business success.”
Anna Kellogg, in Colorado, is working on understanding and solving such issues in her work as a MS Candidate in Conservation Leadership at Colorado State University. She says the conference “allowed me to meet many professionals in the field, learn about current research and ideas, and is helping to guide my next professional steps.”
Her work focuses on seeing the human and environmental condition as one intricate system, with her thesis centering on Maya tourism perceptions. Kellogg adds that the ESTC “provided me with ideas to help complete my thesis work and write my first academic paper.”
Zipping over to New York, Bradd Morse enjoyed the conference for the opportunity “to meet like-minded individuals and bounce ideas off of everyone.” His Canopy Tours Inc. display encouraged attendees to interact.
Morse is excited about connections he made at the event, one of which has resulted in a trip to Venezuela to talk with the Venezuelan Ecotourism Network about zip lines and canopies “and also the bigger picture of the area, including the cultural and heritage aspects beyond adventure tourism.”
Moving onto Georgia, we check in with the Marketing and Event Manager at The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Lauren Melde, who was one of the key individuals who helped make the event happen.
She says “The theme of ESTCNA focused on promoting ecotourism with the new adoption of UNTWO’s Sustainable Development Goals. We feel ESTCNA was the perfect meeting ground to formulate and share those ideas. By bringing together leading experts in the industry to discuss the status quo in certain regions, we’re able to foster a deeper understanding and plan of action to boost the ecotourism economy around the world. In fact, there were more people from other countries at ESTCNA 2016 than there were US citizens. I find that progressive and exciting for the world of ecotourism to come.”
And through her ongoing work with TIES, Melde continues the effort with membership outreach, the ecoAuction program, and social media marketing to over a half-million travelers. Additionally the Ecotourism Experts Forum Series provides monthly interactive training via live webinars. Medle says “We seek to provide the tools to encourage conservation of protected wildlife (on and offshore) and foster growth in the changing environment of ecotourism.”
In Florida, Karen Vergara, owner of Native Tours, found the ESTCNA sessions to be very informative but found even greater value in the connections she formed with others. As a direct result of the conference, Native Tours has fired up a variety of initiatives, including applying to become the GSTC Peru Country Representative and collaborating with GSTC country representatives to share best practices.
Also, Native Tours is partnering with like-minded community based tourism agencies to cross promote sustainable tours in additional locations and is promoting a Peace Retreat in Peru next year.
Vergara adds “We began partnering with a few of university professors from sustainability master programs for their students to conduct case studies and research on our company and how we’re doing in terms of sustainability best practices.”
These actions will advance the success of Vergara’s company that will in turn benefit the local indigenous communities she supports with her tours and various non-profit partner organizations.
Heading down to Mexico for the last stop, Mayra Ofelia Sanchez Gonzalez, from Merida, reflects on the impacts of the conference. Currently she is a PhD Candidate in the Social Science Department at Michigan Technological University, as well as a Graduate Student Government Department Representative, and President of the Association of Student for People, Environment and Nature (ASPEN).
At the conference, Gonzalez presented on women’s empowerment in ecotourism which sparked a good discussion and increased awareness of the issue for those who attended her presentation, including practitioners.
“Ecotourism is gender blind and often overlooks the role of women. If ecotourism is to be successful it needs to include women, with specific plans for implementation beyond initial policies.”
Gonzalez felt the conference provided insights into what others across around the globe are thinking and doing about the issue, as well as making connections between top-down policies and grass roots efforts. Her aim to increase awareness about the issue and to see improvements on the ground, in policies, and at conferences such as the ESTC, has inspired her to work even harder to fund and complete her research endeavors.
“I’m looking at different ways to promote gender equality in the tourism industry. Training opportunities for women are important, but tourism organizations should understand the community’s needs. They should ask how to become a part of the community; how to become a partner.”
For all of the participants who are hard at work implementing the take-home actions and messages from the conference, ESTCNA jump-started and influenced many activities to advance ecotourism and sustainable tourism.
Conferences shape us, just like traveling.
Deby Stabler is a consultant specializing in sustainability analysis, reporting, and strategy to help communities and organizations reduce their negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts. She formed Project Azul Verde to deliver innovative sustainability consulting to clients of all needs, sizes, and funding levels through efficient and accessible solutions.
Deby holds a Master’s in Environmental Policy and Management with a concentration in Natural Resource Management from Denver University and a Bachelor’s in Psychology and Environmental Studies from Baylor University. She enjoys exploring and caring for our natural world, so she is often seen promoting sustainability and conservation on her local mountain trails (in beautiful Boulder, Colorado) as well as on vacation.
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