go to top pageECOCLUB.com > ECOCLUB Magazine > The Interview

ECOCLUB Interviews are a true who is who of the ecotourism movement

123 Flash Menu Placeholder.

ISSN 1108-8931


 Year 4 - Issue 44 - Jan 03

Mr. Jeremy GarettJEREMY GARRETT: "Many companies promote "ecotourism" in their brochures simply because they are trying to cater to the market, even though they may not follow the principles of ecotourism."

ECOCLUB Interviews Jeremy Garrett
Index of Interviews

Working in the nature and ecotourism sector for 12 years, Mr. Jeremy Garrett recently left his position as Membership Director with The International Ecotourism Society to start his own consulting firm, NaTour Communications which specialises in providing communications solutions to the outdoor and natural resources industries, including nature and ecotourism. Jeremy recently received the 2002 International Ecotourism Promotion Award, offered by the Ecotourism Society of Pakistan, with voting conducted internationally.

(The Interview follows:)

ECOCLUB.com: You held a strategic post at The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) during the first International Year of Ecotourism. What were in your view the successes and failures of the International Year of Ecotourism, in terms of promotion and marketing effectiveness? Do the average tourist and local community now understand more about ecotourism than a year before, or was the Year more successful as a networking affair?

IYE's relevance really depended upon who you were and what you represented. I think the best thing IYE achieved was greater knowledge among government entities about what ecotourism is, and more importantly, what it is not. Or at least it gave them the knowledge to understand this distinction, and to understand what "greenwashing" is in the context of marketing a destination as "ecotourism." If you said your company conducted "ecotourism" tours, yet you didn't hire any local people, never made any contributions to the well-being of the local community, and only utilized foreign vendors, that probably would be considered "greenwashing" - you might be offering "nature tourism," but that's not "ecotourism." And there's nothing wrong with offering nature tourism - just promote it as that.

Many critics initially labelled the year as another means of marketing destinations under the guise of "ecotourism", but from everything I saw, the IYE probably was considered a non-event to the average tourist and local community. Some destinations and tourist companies tried to capitalise on the fact, but I'd say the majority of consumers never heard about IYE; if they somehow did hear, they probably didn't understand the message or theme - was it a celebration or a networking affair?

Working in the communications field, I was gratified to see the many opportunities for tourism practitioners to attend a conference or meeting within their region where they could network with other like-minded souls. This could have been considered the most successful part of the year, when people were able to see what their peers and competitors had accomplished, learn from them, and then take those skills home. We probably will not be able to see the fruits of IYE until several years in the future, when those local practitioners are able to use what they learned from their peers.

You are both an accomplished wildlife manager and ecologist, and an ecotourism marketer and fundraiser. Do you think there is a divide on the way these two separate constituencies approach ecotourism?

Thank you for the compliment. There certainly is a mental divide, but I think by necessity that the future fate of wild lands and wildlife will increasingly depend upon making them "worthwhile" to people, especially local interests. We've seen time and again that if local people in depressed economic situations do not associate a value with their wild areas, they will convert those areas to something that does provide revenue (normally short-term). And often the result is something that will be harmful to future tourism efforts.

For example, one of the projects I worked on this past summer began with an idea from a wildlife agency to promote conservation efforts on private lands. The agency only manages a small percentage of the lands within their region, so long-term conservation of wild lands and wildlife is absolutely dependent upon private landowners. The project began to link an economically depressed region together by promoting the abundant natural resources through a highway-based wildlife trail that would be taken by wildlife viewers (i.e. tourists). These local communities previously had been offered such industries as corporate hog farming, toxic waste and sludge disposal, and large-scale prisons. However, they rejected these in favour of supporting something that would retain their cultural and natural heritage. These communities have now banded together to pursue nature tourism efforts, realizing that it will be a long-term investment more in keeping with their outdoor traditions, rather than the perceived quick infusion of funds the other industries supposedly offered. This, in turn, will lead to enhanced conservation efforts on private lands as those landowners realize they are able to make money by sharing their lands and wildlife with paying tourists. This example comes from the middle of the U.S., but the same thing is happening worldwide every day.

The main problem in saving these wild places is that biologists are much more comfortable in dealing with wildlife than with people. As a result, they have depended too much upon strict regulations and laws to save these lands rather than finding alternative business solutions that are acceptable to the local people. There's a standing joke that wildlife biologists go into that line of work to avoid people. What we're now realising is that while we know quite a bit about wildlife management, we now have to enter into the field of "people" management. Thankfully, this has begun changing in the last decade.

However, it takes a lot of time and investment to enable local communities to conserve their lands and wildlife; it is obviously much easier to pass a law or write a fine, but you have not involved the community at this point. When the community (whatever shape or form that is) becomes invested in the success of the ecotourism project, they are more apt to support and encourage environmental and conservation efforts because they realize this is in their own best long-term interests for survival. And this, then, is in the best interests of conservationists, because the local community will ensure that the natural resources are protected in the future.

What is "ethical marketing" for you, and how does it relate to ecotourism? Are there any special principles for ecotourism marketing?

"Ethical marketing" should always subscribe to the truth, especially when it relates to ecotourism. The average consumers know only what they are told, so if they purchase a trip being promoted as "ecotourism," the business by all means should subscribe to the principles of ecotourism. If the company doesn't follow these practices, the consumer will leave with the wrong impression of "ecotourism" ventures and disregard future efforts.

The key to effective marketing, ecotourism or otherwise, is to differentiate yourself from your competitors. What makes you special or unique? What can the tourist do at your destination that they can't do elsewhere? Find out what your competitors are saying so you can draft a different message that resonates with consumers. In some ways, it might be easier for a true ecotourism business to market themselves, because they can emphasise the opportunity for consumers to support a larger cause.

For example, if two lodges are in the same destination, have comparable rates, and similar favourable reviews, the lodge that practices the ethics of ecotourism can promote the fact that 10 percent of their revenues go to support the local town library and to replace trees cut down by illegal logging. Most consumers probably would choose the ecotourism venture. The "ethics" would dictate that the lodge does indeed carry out these activities as promised.

What is an "ethical rate" of remuneration for an ecotourism consultant who is called to help develop ecotourism in a poor village?

That definitely is a controversial subject - a village that makes very few dollars in a year obviously can't afford a high-priced nature and ecotourism consultant, with average prices ranging from $100/day to $1,000/day. And yet a consultant probably can't "give away" his/her services without some form of compensation, although I have met at least one consultant willing to offer her services in developing/marketing ecolodges if her travel expenses were met!.

This is where some creative thinking can come in. Obviously, the village needs some outside assistance to give them suggestions on what they offer, who their market is, and how they can responsibly integrate ecotourism offerings into their way of life. That outside assistance could come from a university, government program, NGO or private contractor. In the long term, it would be ideal to have someone from the region or country with the proper knowledge; unfortunately, this is not the case in many destinations, so outside experts should be brought in. Local communities might first contact any relevant government branches (tourism, wildlife, environment) or universities to see what programs are offered, or any ecotourism contacts that could be provided. Many times, NGOs such as Conservation International, WWF or The Nature Conservancy will work with local communities to help them conserve their lands and wildlife; ecotourism may be just one of several options the community could undertake. Also, some communities go into a partnership with private interests, who provide front-money in return for back-end profits after the ecotourism venture has become successful.

Regardless of the method, if a community wishes to be successful in attracting tourists to their destination in today's competitive marketplace, they will need to find expertise for their ecotourism venture, whether it be in planning, design, operation, marketing or evaluation. Also, don't forget the adage "You get what you pay for" - a college intern may be free, but their product will be markedly different than a consultant who has years of experience.

Has ecotourism become mainstream? Are there any dangers if it has or does become mainstream?

Ecotourism is definitely not mainstream - it's a small piece of the overall nature tourism market. And by its very definition, ecotourism has to be both nature-based and sustainable toward the well-being of local people, something mass tourism is often unable to accomplish. This implies that "true" ecotourism efforts should be small-scale to avoid disturbing the well-being of local people, which to me includes their way of life. Yes, any form of tourism that brings revenue into a local community will change it. Sadly, however, change is inevitable - I don't know if there is anywhere on earth where you can't see man's touch: from airplanes and satellites overhead to garbage blowing on the wind, or showing up on beaches.

The key, I think, is providing the community with the necessary knowledge to decide how much change they are willing to accept and then merging their financial goals with the marketing potential. If they want to build a new well, and want to use ecotourism to raise the revenues, they need to be told at the start of the process what they can expect from tourists, such as their attitudes, clothing, food and lodging needs, etc. This will help the community determine any limits they wish to impose on the growth of their ecotourism venture.

You are the author of Landscaping for Wildlife: A Guide to the Southern Great Plains (Garrett, publication in June 2003). For an Ecolodge Owner, what would be Ten easy-to-remember "Commandments" to attract wildlife in an ecological, non-addictive manner?

First, I'd like to emphasise that anyone could use these suggestions, not just ecolodge owners. Remember that wildlife, like humans, have four basic needs: food, water, cover and space. If you can provide those in any form, you'll enhance your opportunities to bring wildlife closer to your home or lodge. That said, here's a quick list of suggestions to attract wildlife:

  • 1. Determine what species of plants and wildlife are already found in your area, or occur in your region - you can't attract what doesn't already occur. Try not to bring in foreign, non-native wildlife or plants, as you may damage the fragility of the local ecosystem (which is what paying ecotourists have come to see)

  • 2. Provide year-round water sources, or have it nearby (streams, lakes, etc.) within a quarter-kilometre. Moving water is especially attractive to birds, which will use it to clean themselves.

  • 3. If you have to remove trees and undergrowth for construction, minimize the disturbance and try to integrate these natural features into your construction - something lives there, even insects that other animals eat.

  • 4. Develop wildlife viewing areas where you can view animals without disturbing them - perhaps through use of viewing blinds, feeding sites and soft mulched paths that allow people to quietly approach. Have your guests help you make a list of the wildlife they encounter - it's a value-added benefit to staying with your lodge.

  • 5. If you need additional plantings, choose trees, shrubs and flowers that occur naturally in the region; exotic, non-native species may appear more attractive to you, but the local wildlife won't use them for food. Also, remember that to a visitor, all your native species appear exotic to them! Choose plants that serve multiple uses, such as being utilized for food, nesting and shelter.

  • 6. Create brush piles and rock piles to serve as escape cover for small wildlife species, but don't place them near buildings (unless you'd like to attract snakes!). Place flat, light-coloured stones throughout your property to serve as basking sites for butterflies and reptiles such as lizards and snakes.

  • 7. To attract butterflies, plant colourful wildflowers in a sunny area of the property. Remember that butterflies need plants that produce nectar (for adults) and that serve as larval host plants. The best butterfly gardens incorporate both types of plants so that the adults don't need to fly far to feed and lay eggs.

  • 8. If you provide additional food for wildlife, such as birdseed, ensure that the seeds you select will not become a nuisance if they accidentally sprout or are carried away. Many hummingbirds are attracted to sugar-water feeders (four parts water to one part sugar) placed in partially shaded areas; clean your feeders every 3-4 days with hot water and vinegar to remove bacteria and fungus moulds.

  • 9. Minimize the use of herbicides and insecticides by using natural methods of control.

  • 10. Take a comfortable seat, a pair of binoculars and enjoy the fruits of your labour!

Luxury Ecolodge - an oxymoron or a necessity?

I agree with the answer provided by Chandra de Silva in a previous ECOCLUB Interview, where he said that when applied to ecolodges, "luxury" should be considered in the context of locally crafted - not imported - artefacts and handcrafts that draw the visitor into the local culture. In this context, yes, you can have a Luxury Ecolodge. Don't forget that even though tourists may be taking an ecotourism trip, they're still on vacation - they still want to splurge and do things they can't do back home. Research confirms that U.S. ecotourists have a higher-than-average salary and more disposable income. After taking a jaunt through the forests, they want to be pampered.

Recent research confirms this thought. According to the "The Business of Ecolodges" (Sanders and Halpenny, 2001, available from TIES), which surveyed some 200 nature lodges globally, the most profitable were those that either charged more than $175/night, or those that had room rates of less than $50/night. It was suggested that these two might be most profitable because high-end (luxury) facilities can better differentiate their products, while low-end lodges can keep their expenses relatively low, most probably by catering to the independent traveller / backpacker market. All the lodges in the middle price brackets are essentially offering the same products without any discernable difference. Again, if you can't differentiate yourself from your competitor, it is difficult for the consumer to choose you.

As a Marketing expert, do you feel there is any new detectable trend to replace the word "ecotourism" in brochures?

It is important to understand that ecotourism is both a philosophical concept and a market segment. As such, many companies promote "ecotourism" in their brochures simply because they are trying to cater to the market, even though they may not follow the principles of ecotourism. But they also use all the other related catchwords: adventure tourism, nature tourism, cultural and heritage tourism. And certainly, ecotourism as a market segment meshes pieces of each of these.

I don't think we're going to get companies to stop promoting themselves as "ecotourism" companies, because they are in competition for market dollars. Certification efforts may help to some extent, but perhaps instead we should educate consumers on what "ecotourism" principles are, and teach them how to select companies that engage these principles. TIES' consumer campaign - "Your Travel Choice Makes a Difference" - has been a good model.

How important a role do you think the Internet plays for Ecotourism;  is it more or less important than for mass tourism?

The Internet is absolutely crucial for small, local-based ecotourism ventures, more so than any other medium. Just looking at some of the ecolodges promoted through ECOCLUB.com and other websites, you quickly realize that without the Internet, they probably would never be seen by consumers. Mass tourism already has a built-in marketing network of travel agents, outfitters, operators, videos and advertisements that promote various destinations and sites; ecotourism ventures, on the other hand, don't have such large budgets to promote themselves. Using our small village from earlier as an example, what is the most cost-efficient way for them to promote themselves to the world at large? The Internet, of course. According to the Travel Industry Association, 71 percent of U.S. travellers had access to the internet in 2000. That number globally continues to rise, so the Internet provides a cost-efficient means of promoting small ecotourism ventures.

If you were to choose an ecotourism trade event in 2003 which one would it be?

No matter where you are from, it is always worthwhile to attend a conference or event where you can actually be with your peers and competitors and share experiences. That said, I highly recommend the IATOS World Congress and Expo (19-23 February 2003), which combines a 2-day conference attended by hundreds of ecotourism practitioners with a 2-day trade show attended by some 20,000 consumers. It's a great opportunity to get new take-home ideas, sell some trips, and experience the world-famous blues clubs of Chicago, USA !

ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much!

Find the complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here

Disclaimer:  Any views expressed in this magazine belong to their respective authors and are not necessarily those of ECOCLUB S.A. Although we try to check all facts, we accept no liability for inaccuracies - which means you should not take any travel or other decisions based only on what you read here... Use of this magazine is covered by the Terms & Conditions of the ECOCLUB.com Website and by your uncommon sense and good humour.


Copyright © 1999-2008 ECOCLUB S.A. All Rights Reserved. Terms of use
Home Ecolodges News Shop Community Chat Library Events Advertise Join Recommend