Claire Ellis

Claire Ellis on Strengthening Ecotourism

After three decades, Ecotourism Australia keeps reinventing itself to be relevant to the changing needs of the ecotourism industry. Chairperson Claire Ellis spoke to Mallika Naguran on why Australia’s new sustainable destination certification is very much needed and on working with WWF to advance the interests of Australian ecotourism operators while rebuilding disaster affected areas.  

When stakeholders are all working around developing a better destination both for visitors and also for the communities that live there, it helps our members by providing a better operating environment—a better place to work.

Dr. Claire Ellis once had her own tour operations at sea. She ran small expeditions using charter vessels within sunny Indonesia in the 1990s. Little did she know that years later, she’d be Chair of an organisation that oversees ecotourism standards in Australia particularly in enhancing sustainability in nature-based areas.

Ecotourism Australia is focused on inspiring environmentally sustainable and culturally responsible tourism. The not-for-profit organisation delivers certification programmes for nature-based tourism products and creates networking and learning opportunities for its members.

Ellis has been the chairperson of Ecotourism Australia for two years now and the excitement of making things happen was evident when she spoke to Gaia Discovery. “We’ve been operating for almost 30 years and we were the first organisation in the world to develop an ecotourism certification programme for tourism products. We have operators who’ve been certified with us more than 20 years now. A fantastic achievement! And we have a long heritage and history in the delivery and management of quality certification programmes that meet the needs of our members and industry.”

Currently, around 1700 products from all over Australia are certified with Ecotourism Australia. Around 45% of operators have been certified members for at least 10 years and 35% for more than 20 years.

Australia’s own sustainable destination certification

Ellis, formerly a Tourism Tasmania director and a board member of the Asian Ecotourism Network, has seen progress take place within Ecotourism Australia in terms of growth and expansion of services, particularly with the introduction of ECO Destination Certification. This uses a framework that’s accredited by the international Global Sustainable Tourism Council. “What’s really exciting to me in the last three years or so is we’ve increasingly looked at improvement, and we’ve linked up with a number of different entities and organisations around global systems.” Rather than reinventing the wheel, Ecotourism Australia chose to adapt a system originally developed in Europe—the Green Destinations Standard for Sustainable Tourism—adding additional criteria to make it ecotourism specific and amending it to fit the Australian context.

This article was first published on Gaia Discovery. Read on…

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