ISSN 1108-8931


Year 7 - Issue 91 - June 07

Sponsored by: Hana Maui Botanical Gardens, Maris Hotels Traditional Apartments,
Vythiri Resort, Beyond Touring, Siam Safari Nature Tours, Canyon Travel,
La Selva Jungle Lodge, Eco Holidays Malta

CAROL PATTERSON: "Governments need to lead with policies and incentives to green our business practices and our lifestyles."

The ECOCLUB Interview
Index of Interviews

Carol PattersonCarol Patterson is well known as a tourism industry consultant, speaker and author. Carol is the author of the book, The Business of Ecotourism that offers business guidance for individuals, companies and organizations involved in the nature tourism industry. She is also a coauthor on The Business of EcoTourism Development and Management, a book on ecotourism business planning used by The Nature Conservancy in their tourism projects in Latin America. Carol also co wrote Saving Paradise: The Story of Sukau Rainforest Lodge with Albert Teo, founder of Borneo EcoTours. Carol has degrees in Business Administration, Economics and Geography, and holds a Certified Management Accountant Designation. In 1991 she was named Merit Winner in the Pannel Kerr Forster Research Award competition. Carol is a private pilot and operated the Calgary Zooís very popular Flying Zoo program in the late 1980s. She teaches recreation and tourism geography classes for the University of Calgary and her humorous but practical presentation style means she is in great demand as a speaker for tourism conferences and workshops. Her company, Kalahari Management Inc., provides assistance in assessments, strategic planning, feasibility studies and capacity building for the tourism industry. It publishes a quarterly newsletter EcoTourism Management that furnishes practical information on tourism issues and best practices. Kalahari Management has worked with numerous organizations and communities on developing nature tourism businesses. Recent projects have included a strategic plan for the Canadian Badlands, business development activities for north Atlantic nature tourism operators, creation of funding criteria for aboriginal business, and marketing strategies for bird-watching and nature tourism corridors. Selected studies are available for viewing on Kalahari Management website at

(The Interview follows:)

ECOCLUB: You are a leading ecotourism consultant. What attracted you to Ecotourism in the first place and how has Ecotourism evolved since?

Carol Patterson: Ecotourism attracted me because of its potential to combine several of my passions Ė experiences in nature, wildlife conservation and business development. I started my business in 1991 when few people had even heard of the term and much of the ecotourism development was occurring in east and south Africa or Latin America. In the years since then, Iíve noticed a growing awareness amongst consumers about the concept (although we still have a long way to go) and much more ecotourism development in all world regions.

ECOCLUB: Do you believe in Ecotourism certification? Science or greenwash?

Carol Patterson: Ecotourism certification is something I have mixed feelings about. I want to see more ecotourism businesses and ensure that there is integrity when people say they are using ecotourism principles and practices. Unfortunately, certification programs are expensive, often under-funded by government, and not widely recognized by travellers. There is also an explosion in the number of programs which dilutes the brand recognition for consumers. Whether it is science of greenwash, Iím not sure it is either. Science is only part of a good certification programs and there are certainly many cases of people misusing the eco label, but having a certification program is neither a guarantee of quality ecotourism nor the only way to achieve it. I think that training tourism businesses in the principles and best practices of ecotourism is extremely important in growing this industry

ECOCLUB: Is there such a thing as a 'luxury ecolodge'?

Carol Patterson: I certainly hope so! We canít equate sustainability with suffering especially in leisure travel. I think one of the problems ecotourism businesses face in destinations like North America, is that potential customers hesitate to purchase trips because they think they the ecotourism facilities will be too rugged or the trip unpleasant. Few people like to suffer on their holidays so I think facilities with some extra amenities are important to ecolodge success. We may have to redefine luxury for people so they understand that while they may not have air-conditioning they will have a cool room due to the building design and be very comfortable. Ecolodge luxury often comes from the rare experiences they offer and we need to promote that.

ECOCLUB: Do / should Ecotourists really care about human rights?

Carol Patterson: Is there anyone who doesnít care about human rights? I doubt it. However it is difficult to equate your travel choice with human rights or to know if you are making an informed decision. I think ecotourism organisations can share information on human rights and let people make a choice that is consistent with their values. There are tradeoffs to be made in every decision.

ECOCLUB: Have you found it more beneficial & practical, as an ecotourism consultant, to work with communities, or with small businesses?

Carol Patterson: Communities are made up of small businesses so they are not mutually exclusive. However, it is very difficult for one ecotourism business to succeed in isolation. I find the most successful projects occur when a wide cross-section of tourism businesses and government agencies come together to develop a tourism destination. It creates the critical mass needed to reach profitability in a reasonable period of time. Economic viability is critical if conservation objectives are to be met through ecotourism.

ECOCLUB: If you were to choose one of your many projects as an ideal showcase for ecotourism, which one would it be and why?

Carol Patterson: It would be a project I did for several communities in west central Nevada a couple of years ago. Nevada is more often associated with gamblers than bird watching but that is changing. Rick Gray of the Fallon Convention and Tourism Authority saw the opportunity in nature-based tourism and was able to secure funding for a project to develop tourism products and marketing strategies for bird watchers. It had all the elements I like to see in a project. It involved people from many levels of government, conservation groups like the Lahonta Audubon Society, established tourism businesses and some very dedicated community volunteers. I worked with Bob Barnes and Bob Garrison of Nature Tourism Planning on the project and we were able to identify some great new tourism experiences and practical marketing suggestions, some of which increased visitation for local businesses even before the project was finished. The study was awarded a Tourism Excellence award by the Nevada Commission on Tourism and is being used as template for small communities in other parts of the state.

ECOCLUB: What is your view on the many wanabe 'tourisms" that - unsuccessfully - aim to replace Ecotourism? Do labels matter?

Carol Patterson: Iím not aware of any Ďwanabeísí trying to replace ecotourism. There are related forms of tourism such as sustainable tourism or green tourism but I see them as complementary facets. Iím in favour of any form of tourism that gets people thinking about the global community and reducing their environmental impact. I think we need to be more concerned with outputs than labels.

ECOCLUB: Ecotourism starts at home. What is the main problem facing tourism & the environment in your native Alberta, and what would be the solution?

Carol Patterson: I am living in a place experiencing the equivalent of the California gold rush in terms of prosperity and rapid growth. People and investment money are flocking to Alberta to take advantage of the energy boom at an astounding rate. There is an abundance of disposable income for travel but little time to take a trip. There is full employment so help wanted signs dot the windows of almost every hospitality business, and several profitable businesses have closed their doors due to their inability to find staff. Homelessness is growing and almost half of homeless people have jobs! So attracting seasonal staff can mean finding them a place for them to live on top of training them. The government is very focused on responding to this growth and tourism is not receiving sufficient attention. The energy industry still receives priority in development decisions and there are many people who disagree with the policy of multi-use in many of our protected areas. Hiking in a natural area with a gas plant over the next ridge is not everyoneís idea of a day in the woods. I would like to see the government make tourism a higher priority. The creation of the Alberta Badlands destination and funding for rural development is a great example of how the government can facilitate rural development and preservation through tourism. Continued funding for this project and others like it would be something I would support

ECOCLUB: The 3rd, revised, edition of your book, "The Business of Ecotourism" is now available. What revisions does it include and why?

Carol Patterson: The most important revision to the new book is a section devoted exclusively to helping people find careers in the field of nature tourism. The cover story on this monthís Outside magazine features 37 dream jobs encouraging people to turn their passion into a pay cheque. They provide some great profiles. The Business of Ecotourism gives people specific tools and tips on how to find those jobs or self-employment opportunities. I am frequently approached by people who want to do what I do or have the freedom and excitement found in nature tourism work. I thought it was time to share the techniques Iíve used and which will work for other people. Iím also working on a series of online training courses to complement the book so people can continue to develop their careers and businesses so there are even more people working to make the planet a better place through travel. If people are interested in learning more about the book they should go to

ECOCLUB: So do you believe Ecotourism is more of a business or of a philosophy?

Carol Patterson: I think it is a philosophy. You donít have to label something ecotourism to adopt the principles and practices. I have not met one person who is against the environment yet we have huge environmental problems. I think we have to get past the words to actions. Governments need to lead with policies and incentives to green our business practices and our lifestyles. I hope my work contributes to that leadership by demonstrating that good environmental practices equals good business, not precludes it.

ECOCLUB: Thank you very much

Find the complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here


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