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Ecotourism Australia (EA) is a not for profit organisation focused on inspiring environmentally sustainable and culturally responsible tourism. We design and deliver certification programs for tourism products, representing more than 500 environmentally responsible ecotourism operators and 1,500 products across Australia.
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We represent the interests of ecotourism operators through membership on advisory boards, reference groups and other industry bodies where we work closely with diverse industry stakeholders to implement sustainable tourism practices.
We work with the following industry sectors:
- Ecotourism operators (accommodation, attraction and tours)
- Protected area managers and other government agencies (State & Federal)
- Local and regional tourism associations
- Tourism, environmental, interpretation and training consultants
- Tourism planners
- Academics and students
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Sustainability in Tourism
- Executive Summary
Tourism forms a major economic activity for almost every country. According to the UNWTO (2008), tourism contributes to about 19% on average to the GDP of all countries. With the increasing levels of environmental awareness and the campaign for sustainable development, sustainability has become a core aspect in most operations including the tourism industry with the concept of sustainable tourism being born. This essay seeks to explore sustainability in tourism and determine where it is a failure or a success, undertake a case study of Monkey Mia yacht charters, a certified tourism operation in Australia as to determine sustainability in the operations of the company, the requirements and the standards of certification by the certifying body – Ecotourism Australia, and lastly explore how sustainability would be improved in the tourism industry. Research was done through literature review and physical visit to the tourism operator. Analysis is done based on the three principles of sustainable tourism – environmental protection, social equality, and economic development. The mostly used process-based systems are the ISO 14001 for environmental management and ISO 9000 series for quality management. Monkey Mia compliance strategies are; new staff briefing under a specialized induction program to ensure efficiency in areas regarded as sensitive and any emergency cases, to protect the dolphins through minimized interaction with mother and calves, and breeding couples, minimized the use of engines in shallow waters so as to minimize disturbance of the substrate, their vessels are fitted with bigger diesel engines to enable running at lower revolutions to decrease lower impact, engaging the local communities in the development of new products, clear instruction are made to visitors on how to operate in the area, the government and the Yadgalah Aboriginal Corporation own 50% of the company, and the company has employed numerous members of the local community. The ways through which the company can improve sustainable tourism include redesigning their products to attract the local tourist and adoption of more economic strategies for the benefit of the local community. The certifying body and the government should make it a requirement to comply with sustainability requirements or a part of it through passing a policy towards the same. Based on the findings, it is concluded that sustainable tourism is not a failure and the working hypothesis is rejected.
Tourism forms a major economic activity for almost every country. According to the UNWTO (2008), tourism contributes to about 19% on average to the GDP of all countries. Tourism cuts along all countries of the globe, cultures, economies, and political systems. Sustainability on the other hand, is a concept that was developed in the 1970 (Sukhdev, 2012) after the realization of the effects of human activity on the globe and the threat posed by these actions to the future generations. In tourism, sustainability has emerged as a paradigm in the planning and development of tourism. This essay seeks to explore sustainability in tourism and determine where it is a failure or a success, undertake a case study of Monkey Mia yacht charters, a certified tourism operation in Australia as to determine sustainability in the operations of the company, the requirements and the standards of certification by the certifying body – Ecotourism Australia, and lastly explore how sustainability would be improved in the tourism industry. The basis of analysis will be to establish sustainability in the tourism industry and the interrelationship with the environment, social, and economic aspects and determine is sustainable tourism is a failure.
With the increasing levels of environmental awareness and the campaign for sustainable development, sustainability has become a core aspect in most operations. The tourism industry is a major global exercise that cuts across different cultures, regions, economies, and through local set ups. Tourism is not only an economic activity, it also involves cultural interaction, and it heavily relies on the environment. Based on these aspects, the industry qualifies for sustainability compliance. Since the 1970s, the growth of the tourism has been intensive with the effects evident both globally and at local scales (Saarinen, 2013). Unfortunately, these effects have been mainly categorized as negative hence the need to guide and limit the growth and operations of tourism in destinations.
i. To analyse the development of the term sustainable tourism
ii. To analyse challenges in sustainable tourism
iii. Establish principles of sustainability and adherence to the same through case study analysis
iv. To identify improvement opportunity for increased environmental, social, and economic sustainability
H0: Sustainable tourism is Australia is a failure.
H1: Sustainable tourism in Australia is a success.
Research was done through literature review and physical visit to the tourism operation in the case study. Literature review was done to establish the status of sustainability in the tourism industry and the principles of sustainable tourism. The literature reviewed was selected from articles published in peer reviewed materials, books and for the case study; the content on the operative’s websites was used. For all the reviewed materials, selection was limited to the past ten years for the purpose of ensuring relevant and up to date information that fits the current status.
The visit to the operative’s location was done for a single day. The major form of data collection during the visit was observation by participating in the tour as a tourist and through conversational chats with the tour guides.
- Sustainable tourism
The discovery of climate change in the 19th century marked the start if the concerted efforts that ultimately lead to the birth of the concept of sustainability (Washington-Allen et al., 2009). The science of climate change identified and brought forward understanding of greenhouse effects and global warming. To control the two, which are the major threats to climate, sustainability was to be established in the majority of developments. The word sustainable tourism was introduced in the Brundtland report and on acceptance of the report by the United Nations, the word was recognized as to refer to the development of tourism operations that allow for exploitation of today’s opportunities while not threatening the future user (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987).
Sustainability in tourism means reduction or complete eradication of operations emitting green house gasses. According to IISD (2010), the state of Victoria alone estimates over 100,000 enterprises in tourism or tourism related industries. These enterprises have the company staff members which have the primary role in ensuring the company adopts and practices sustainability concepts her operations. Secondly are the tourists who tour with the company, and lastly the local communities who inhabit the regions where the company operates. These three groups have roles to play in ensuring suitable tourism.
According to Golusin & Ivanovic (2009), there is a general acceptance that sustainable development if pegged ion three principles; economic, social, and environment. However, despite the general acceptance, the practical adoption of the concept has remained largely elusive.
4.2.Principles of sustainable tourism
Economic growth: economic sustainability means the business/commercial activity does not begin and then rapidly die because of improper business practices. The requirement is that it should continue to contribute to the economic well-being of the local community. A sustainable business should benefit its owners, its employees, and its neighbors (Saarinen, 2013). This principle requires that there is production of more for less. Based on this, it would mean less extraction of natural resources for raw materials and still ability to meet the current needs. According to Hornoiu (2009), the economic pillar is what most groups have focused on in the effort to attain sustainability. However, in the effort to attain sustainable economies, countries end up unsustainable efforts for the economic growth and environmental protection. In addition to the imbalance in the sustainability of these three pillars, the total consumption in the future is projected to grow as population continues on an increasing trend.
Environmental protection: the economic pillar requires that every individual, governments, manufacturers, recreational facilities, etc protects the environment by reduction or complete avoidance of green house emissions, adoption of green strategies, among other. Environmental protection has become the major pillar for governments and business. The result of this increased activity towards environmental protection is a higher number of the individuals willing to take up green strategies (Turner et al. 2010). Some of the strategies being taken towards environmental protection are the adoption of wind and solar energy in place of fossil fuels.
Social equality: requires that social communities, groups, and people’s welfare in upheld. In development, this pillar requires that development projects seek to offer equal opportunities regardless of race, ethnicity, region with an establishment national area e.g. country or state, and between the rich and the poor. According to Sin (2010), this pillar has been largely disregarded by government and businesses. The evidence of this disregard is in the ever increasing gap between the rich and the poor. According to IISD (2010), the world inequality index has declined for the past 20 years. However, with countries inequality remains extremely high. The 1% of the rich in the world own about 40% of the world wealth while the 50% of the world’s poorest people own only 1% of the world’s wealth (Hornoiu, 2009).
Even though the three pillars are easily identifiable and widely accepted as the major contributors to sustainability, in the tourism industry they have remained largely a failure. According to Alder et al. (2010), it is difficult to find a tourism operative who have equality adopted and practices the tree pillar of sustainability. As economic growth remains industry priority, operatives in the tourism sector have been left to control and determine economic stability. On the other hand, environmental protection has been made a mandate of the government with policies controlling operations. On the other hand, social inequality is largely viewed as a social phenomenon that cannot be solved through sustainability strategies but rather has to be born with as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
- Case study; Monkey Mia resort.
5.1.Background of the company
Monkey Mia resort is located in Loc 80 Reserve 1686, in Shark Bay area near the township of Denham, western Australia 700 kilometers north of Perth on the coast of Peron Peninsula. The resort’s primary activity is marine tourism mainly Dolphins. The resort is located on a large expanse of land that is undeveloped. Historically, the land on which the resort is located was used by the indigenous communities for pastoral purposes (Golusin & Ivanovic, 2009).
In the effort to achieve sustainability in their operations, Monkey Mia has had a number of challenges. These challenges are specific to the various activities the resort undertakes. These activities include eco-tourism, beach-base recreational tourism, non-beach related tourism, yachting, boating and cruising, and nautical sports (Blackstock et al., 2008). These activities are available for both foreign and local tourists.
However, the effort to attain sustainable tourism has not been without challenges. First, the Monkey Mia resort is located in a remote region largely inhabited by the indigenous communities of Australia. The communities which include the aborigines and the Torres Strait Islanders have very divergent cultural value and beliefs companied to the mainstream culture of the immigrant community which owns and runs the resort. Based on these differences, there is an evident social difference between the local community and the resort settings.
The resorts primary economic activity is dolphin relating which is open for both children and adults in shallow and deep waters. Closely in second is yachting services where tourists can go deep sea seeing as well as to the nearest highlands. In all these activities, the company lacks sufficiently trained personnel for effective delivery of services. Moreover, the service type on over by the company is limited and not open to innovation (Sin, 2010). Based on these challenges, it is difficult for the company to maximize or increase the economic value of their services.
Monkey Mia resort in located far into the western region of Australia into the wild of Australia. Based on the location, tourists do not choose to visit the resort as their primary destination. According to Turner et al. (2010), the average visitor number to Monkey Mia is 106,500 of which 29,000 stay in the resort for about 3 nights. Based on the location and the need to stay to enjoy maximally, it is clear that the resort targets the middle class and the rich in the society.
One of the certifying bodies for sustainable tourism in Australia is Ecotourism Australia. The body was formed in 1991 as the Ecotourism Association of the Indo Pacific Region. Over the years, it has rebranded severally up to 2002 when Ecotourism Australia limited (EA) was born. EA was established to encourage ecotourism in Australia and the immediate regions by creation of partnerships, development and encouragement of ecotourism experience and provision of a clear voice of ecotourism in Australia (Sin, 2010). The main product of EA is certification programs which have been responsible for the definition of ecotourism. The four program for ecotourism in Australia are; ECO certification, Climate Action, Respecting our culture, and EcoGuide certification.
Two methods are used for certification in Australia; processed-based system and the performance-based system (Sin, 2010). The mostly used process-based systems are the ISO 14001 for environmental management and ISO 9000 series for quality management (Saarinen, 2013). These two systems are used to certify business that have established and documented systems that guarantee improvement in environmental performance and must show improvement in their own annual performance results. On the other hand, performance-based certification system in merely comparison between two companies and not whether the business or the activity complies with certain set standard criteria (Sin, 2010). For ecotourism, process based in used and the standards are that the company should meet the three pillar of sustainable tourism; environmental, social, and economic.
5.3.Monkey Mia compliance with the ISO 14001 and ISO 9000 series standards
To meet the standards of certification and continue to operate with the certification standards, Monkey Mia operates as to minimize impact in native species and the local communities. To achieve this, the management of the company has undertaken a full environmental risk assessment. Several initiatives have been identified and are undertaken proactively towards sustainability compliance.
To achieve the environmental requirement for sustainable tourism, the company has undertaken new staff briefing under a specialized induction program to ensure efficiency in areas regarded as sensitive and any emergency cases (Szabo & Duffus, 2008). To protect the dolphins, which are the primary tourist attraction product, the company has established programs for minimized interaction with mother and calves, and breeding couples. In the yacht operations, Monkey Mia has minimized the use of engines in shallow waters so as to minimize disturbance of the substrate (Blackstock etal., 2008). For visiting customers, they are advised to make the minimum noise in case the animal approaches the vessel, not to make repeat routes to avoid repeat disturbance of the wildlife, and not to feed the animals. For cleaning purposes, the company uses recycled toilet papers, uses salt water for deck scrubbing, and uses non-phosphate detergents.
For their yacht operations, the company seeks to minimize the emission of green house gasses as much as possible. First, their vessels are fitted with bigger diesel engines to enable running at lower revolutions to decrease lower impact (Szabo & Duffus, 2008). The propellers are pitched to maximize their performance and at the same time, reduce noise. Their vessels are redesigned to make the catamaran’s hulls and keels sails higher to reduce drag and use of lesser power to move the vessel. Solar panels are used to power the vessels with engines only used for backup purposes.
Socially, Monkey Mia has adopted vital strategies for compliance with certification standards. According to Blackstock et al (2008), the company actively engages the local communities in the development of new products. The operations are sensitive to the Yadgalah Aboriginal Corporation and they are keep to ensure they don’t encroach on locally significant sites (Saarinen, 2013). For areas significant to the local community, clear instructions are made to visitors on how to operate in the area. For the visitors of Monkey Mia, the company encourages them to visit Shark Bay tour operations offered by Aboriginal tourism operators. The naming of the company is also done as per the native language (Zeppel & Muloin, 2008).
Economically, Monkey Mia has undertaken diverse strategies to ensure not only does Monkey Mia benefit the local community, but also continues to emancipate local communities economically without the risk of falling out of operations. First, the government and the Yadgalah Aboriginal Corporation own 50% of the company (Sin, 2010). This ownership translates to a significant part of the company’s profit share to the local community. In addition, the company has employed numerous members of the local community. According to Hawkins & Gartside (2008), the tour guides position in Monkey Mia is preserved for the members of the local community.
5.4.Opportunities for improvement of Monkey Mia sustainable tourism
Even though the resort has made tremendous stride towards sustainable tourism, there is still room for improvement. Based on the above discussion, it is evident that the company is most successful in environmental sustainability. This area has seen the company engage measures in their operations, their vessel, their employee training, and in their dealings with their customers. However, the same cannot be said of their social and economic strategies.
First, it is not clear how the company has designed their products to attract the local tourist. Based on their business setting, it is evident that they are targeting the middle class and rich class customer who has a car or can afford an air or bus ticket to Monkey Mia. To better accommodate the local community customers, the company needs to design better and more indigenous-customer products without the risk of turning racially discriminative. Such products can be free or subsidized company transport systems from Denham.
In addition to better products of the consumption of the local community tourist, the company should adopt more economic strategies for the benefit of the local community. So far, the only evident economic benefit for the local community is seemingly on a “earn” basis. Only those members of the local community employed by the company derive economic benefits from the operative. There are numerous community oriented initiatives through which Monkey Mia can give back to the host community. These include establishment of social amenities like clean drinking water to the community, construction of health centers and their management.
Apart from the operative responsibility towards sustainable tourism, the certifying body as well as the government has a part to play towards the success of sustainable tourism. First, up to date, the certification system is based on operator’s willingness to join and comply (Zeppel & Muloin, 2008). The government should at least make it a requirement to comply with sustainability requirements or a part of it through passing a policy towards the same.
Sustainable tourism is guided by three pillars; economic development, social equality, and environmental protection. Monkey Mia, which is certified and accredited for ecotourism has undertake extensive measures to comply and continue operating with the standards of EA certification. For environment protection, the company compliance strategies include effective induction training for their new employee, redesigning of their vessels to reduce fuel consumption and power needed to drive then as well as minimize disturbance on the wildlife. For social equality, Monkey Mia has undertake numerous strategies among them employment of local tour guides, empowerment of locally owned tour-guide companies in Shark Bay, and ownership share by the local leadership council. Economically, the company has undertaken various strategies to give back to the community as well as ensure continual in operations. However, recommendations for improvement include increased economic participation for the benefit of local community through investing in local initiative. To improve consumption of their products by the local community, it is recommended that the company should redesign or design new products for their customers from the local market. Based on this case study, it is concluded that even though sustainable tourism is not at its best, it is not a failure. Therefore, the working hypothesis is rejected and H1 adopted.
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