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ISSN 1108-8931


 Year 8 - Issue 97 - May 08

KELLY BRICKER: "Ecotourism has proven its place in the world, that if done well and with principles in place, it is one of many solutions to biodiversity conservation and wise use of resources around the globe."

The ECOCLUB Interview with Kelly Bricker
Chair & Executive Director, The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)
Index of Interviews

Prof. Kelly BrickerDr. Kelly S. Bricker completed her Ph.D. research with The Pennsylvania State University in 1998, where she specialized in sustainable tourism development. She has special research interest in sustainable tourism, natural resource management, outdoor recreation, and community and heritage tourism development, ecotourism, sense of place and incentive travel programs. Dr. Bricker has worked all over the world, employed as guide, tourism manager, wilderness instructor, scuba and sailing instructor, professor, and researcher. With her husband Nathan, she started an ecotourism company called Rivers Fiji in the rural highlands of Fiji, which is now protected Fiji’s first RAMSAR Wetland of Importance. She has taught at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, West Virginia University, Sacramento State University and Cal Poly Universities in California. She is a part-time Senior Scientist in recreation with Devine Tarbell & Associates, an environmental management company focused on alternative energy resources. She continues to conduct research on the social, cultural, and environmental impacts of tourism development in Fiji and the US. Kelly serves as Associate Professor at the University of Utah in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism.

Dr. Bricker has been a Board Member of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) since 2000, and currently serves as Chair and Interim Executive Director. Founded in 1990 in Vermont and now based in Washington DC, TIES is the oldest international ecotourism organisation with members in over 90 countries. As a non-profit, non-governmental and multi-stakeholder association, TIES provides guidelines and standards, training, technical assistance, research and publications to foster sound ecotourism development and to make tourism a viable tool for conservation, poverty alleviation, protection of culture and bio-diversity, sustainable development and educational, as well as enjoyable. In May 2007 TIES organised with great success the Global Ecotourism Conference in Oslo, Norway.

(The Interview follows:)

ECOCLUB.com: How and when did you discover Ecotourism as a philosophy and practice?

Kelly Bricker: My husband and I travelled extensively for an adventure travel company back in the late 80’s and up through 1994. During this time, we would see areas once pristine and natural deteriorate – in a relatively short period of time. About the time that TIES started, I realized there are alternatives ways to develop and operate tourism products—and as a result, decided to dedicate my PHD focus on ecotourism and sustainable approaches to tourism development. I also attended one of the first board meetings TIES held in the early 1990’s and was thrilled that there was an organization addressing these issues.

ECOCLUB.com: Five issues that have sparked debate in ecotourism circles in recent years, are certification (feasible?), carbon-offsetting (necessary?), hunting (acceptable?), luxury (compatible?) and caring for human rights vs. leaving no footprints - not disturbing the status quo. Where do you personally stand on these issues?

Kelly Bricker: Certification-with the growing number of successful certification programs around the globe in a range of sectors (i.e., coffee, lumber, home products, and tourism), yes, I believe it is feasible. I am continually impressed with those programs that have led the way, and continuously improve their systems.

Carbon offsetting - this is but one strategy to work to achieve a change in the current status of our world. I think we simply have to remember to utilize this as part of developing a portfolio of actions, including behavioural change on all our part! We also have to consider where and what type of offsetting is occurring. Like many strategies we are reviewing to address the climate change issues, it is a start, an action, and something to consider in the mix.

Hunting - Hunting is an activity that is laden with considerations from a range of perspectives. Whether I believe it is "acceptable" (your term) or not, is not relevant. What I believe is relevant is that we must address sustainable practices in everything we do, not just ecotourism. I believe principles that support ecotourism are and will continue to shape how we conduct ourselves on our planet.

Luxury - I think luxury in ecotourism certainly has a place. As with all product offerings, ecotourism businesses do well to offer a range of opportunities to engage in ecotourism at all market levels—luxury being no exception as long as we adopt all principles supporting ecotourism.

Human rights? - as part of our responsibility to being good citizens on this planet, we must engage in practices that embrace the rights of every human. We must promote best practices in all of our work. It is my belief that we embrace and respect all living things—humans are not separate from the rest of the ecosystem and must be treated fairly and with dignity and respect. I am not sure why this would be debated—it seems like a natural process and the way we should be doing business and running governments.

ECOCLUB.com: There are many definitions for Ecotourism, but rather fewer for Ecotourists. Who is entitled to be called an Ecotourist? All nature tourists, or tourists (nature or urban) who follow certain guidelines / rules both in their travels and everyday life?

Kelly Bricker: I think what we promote at TIES and as individuals is simple, Ecotourists are those people who support nature-based tourism products and services that follow the principles to which the concept is aligned—including, contribute to conservation biodiversity, respect and support the well-being of local people, support local economies, involve nature and culture interpretation of the places visited, and involve ecologically sustainable practices. We hope that over time, people will learn how to move what they see in practice into their own lives, and will assimilate best practices into their every day life, and educate those around them.

ECOCLUB.com: TIES in recent years has been increasingly organising major events with great success. The usual criticism against any event in Tourism or other sector, particularly from those who have not been invited...are that they are not representative, are not green, and that little takes place apart from networking and rubber-stamping existing decisions. How is TIES addressing these concerns for its own ecotourism events, and what fundamental principles should any Ecotourism Event meet to do justice to its title?

Kelly Bricker: All public events TIES organizes, including conferences, workshops, forums, and fund raisers are open to all. As you can see in our organizational mission statement, we have an obligation "to promote responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well being of local people by: Creating an international network of individuals, institutions, and the tourism industry; Educating tourists and travel professionals; and influencing the tourism industry and governments to integrate the principles of ecotourism into their operations and policies." Our events serve not only to disseminate up-to-date information about ecotourism and provide networking opportunities, but also to effectively engage various stakeholders in discussions around critical issues in ecotourism and sustainable tourism.

With respect to greening our events, since our first North American Conference in Bar Harbor, we have implemented responsible strategies to help minimize our impact. For instance, for all our past events, we have partnered with appropriate carbon offsetting programs to both offset the carbon emissions produced by the events, and to educate the participants about reducing their carbon footprint.

The following are some examples of the steps we have taken to green our events: - Select event venues that are eco-certified and/or have strong environmental profiles. - Utilize organic and locally produced food and drinks wherever possible. - Utilize recycled or reusable materials (e.g. conference bags, badges, paper) wherever possible. - Utilize public transportation whenever possible and encourage participants to use public transportation or car pool.

ECOCLUB.com: In many associations there is a conundrum: what criteria if any Members must satisfy to be accepted, and through which democratic process, Members can change these criteria. What is the current TIES approach, and your view on this matter?

Kelly Bricker: At present, TIES asks all members to support and implement the following Code of Conduct:

"We agree that ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people, and further agree that we will undertake to adhere to the principles of ecotourism as outlined below:

Minimize impact. - Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect. - Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts. - Provide direct financial benefits for conservation. - Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people. - Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate."

We welcome all members that believe their practices are in line with these principles, and hope that we can reach beyond simply "preaching to the choir". We cannot ensure this 100%, but we also hope that by supporting TIES and being active members of TIES' network, they are learning new and better ways to instil best practices, support conservation, and increase the benefits to local communities.

We also believe best practices will change as we all change over time along with changes in our understanding of sustainability, changes in technology, changes in better and more efficient processes to achieve the sustainability goals we set for ourselves each day. We believe, and others have shown, that the bar set today will be different in the future—and hopefully this will be a very good thing.

ECOCLUB.com: What is your own view and experience with direct democracy in decision-making? Would it be practical for TIES to hold online Member votes on key issues, or is representative democracy (board decides) the way forward?

Kelly Bricker: As a membership organization, we are here to provide a service to our members. We listen and make changes in what we do for our members, how we do things, based on feedback and on-going dialogue with those who support us. The Board is primarily there to ensure we stay on track with our mission, financial oversight, and helping TIES move forward in all its programs and membership supported activities—finding resources and bringing global awareness to issues we all face in ecotourism and sustainable development practices and policies.

We encourage members to contact us on issues they are finding important in their daily lives—we have such a range of members, from NGOs, government, private business, corporations, that often we help bring issues people experience to the forefront. We seek to help facilitate debates, problem solving, and solutions to those ideas brought forward, and to provide information important to all, and we will continue to do so through advocacy campaigns (i.e., global climate change), conferences, forums, educational certificates—so people can participate in a wide range of dialogue, discussion, and critical thinking on issues identified.

ECOCLUB.com: Should there be an increased role for the growing number of national ecotourism societies - assumed that they do democratically represent a nation rather than private interests - in the framework of TIES?

Kelly Bricker: TIES acknowledges that national and regional ecotourism associations play a critical role in providing the vital links between governments, NGOs, businesses and citizens, and thus effectively promoting ecotourism and sustainable travel worldwide. We look forward to increased partnerships with associations from around the world. We have been active in working with a number of associations and support their efforts through speaking engagements, workshops, and marketing their efforts on our web site and through other channels within their region. We believe, and many of our partners have agreed, that TIES can serve as an umbrella organization to bring together ideas from around the globe, link associations to share challenges, solutions, and knowledge. It is a very exciting time in this way.

ECOCLUB.com: A few years ago, TIES felt the need to pass regulations so as to avoid conflicts of interest with its own Members when bidding for consultancy projects. What prompted this, and what is your personal assessment of the level of transparency for major ecotourism-related consultancy projects.

Kelly Bricker: Through our membership, people contact us with projects they need assistance on—we in turn assist our members by posting their information and expertise in various ways. We simply did not have anything in place to explain our process and thus found it necessary to promote this as a genuine benefit of being a member of TIES. We are a natural for bringing folks together to help each other with projects.

ECOCLUB.com: From your data and personal experience, is Ecotourism becoming more or less popular as an academic discipline among students and Universities in the United States? Are young Ecotourism graduates in demand, and from what sort of employers?

Kelly Bricker: Thanks for raising this question. A few years ago, I noticed that many of my academic colleagues were seeing an increased interest by their students in Ecotourism, and, as a tourism operator as well, I know many of us were always searching for good students interested in Ecotourism—but there appeared to be a disconnect in bridging the two worlds. Together with a consortium of partner universities, TIES has established the TIES University Consortium Field Certificate (UCFC) program, which we believe is helping to address this issue.

The goal of the UCFC is to work collaboratively with university programs/departments, to administer an ecotourism certificate of study applicable to a range of academic disciplines and degree programs and professionals who desire a holistic understanding of ecotourism and sustainable tourism development. The UCFC assists individual university and extension programs in the provision of a concentration of study in ecotourism, and in connecting these students with the sustainable tourism industry. The certificate is designed to enable students and participants to undergo a focused concentration within their major or professional position on international issues in ecotourism and sustainable tourism development and acquire a unique pedagogical opportunity in experiential, service, and theoretical learning.

The UCFC incorporates the following into a comprehensive study plan: a) at least one international course provided through a university consortium member; b) on-campus course work; c) engagement in at least one internationally focused seminar through TIES (e.g., web-based or onsite, Eco-certification, Community Development, Sustainable Development Law); and, d) an internship focused on some aspect of ecotourism/sustainable tourism development consisting of 400 hours. The blend of unique learning opportunities and academic and professional disciplines will provide students with holistic experiences, international perspectives, and service learning encounters in ecotourism.

We have seen growing interest from both universities and students in this innovative program, and we hope to connect more students and professionals through the program to meet the growing interest and needs.

ECOCLUB.com: Do you agree that sometimes Ecotourism gets bad press, unfair reviews from uninformed journalists, and over-pedantic scholars who tend to blame all the evils of Tourism on a concept and a movement that actually wants to improve Tourism? And if so, what measures should TIES and its Members take?

Kelly Bricker: I think we live in a society of free thinkers and critics, and as such will always be open to criticism in one form or another. I believe we have to pay some attention to this critique, as it challenges us to do a better job in communication, clarifying principles, and creating a place for open dialogue. We must continue to move forward and not get too hung up on what people criticize. We need to continue to strive for excellence in our products, correct mistakes of the past, and look forward to doing things better in the future. I think critics keep us on our toes and help us understand the range of perspectives out there. It is important for us to simply listen, learn, and as corny as it may sound, continue the good fight the best we can with the resources we have.

ECOCLUB.com: What will be the priorities of your tenure as Executive Director of TIES in terms of the role and organisation of TIES? And what mark do you want to leave on Ecotourism worldwide?

Kelly Bricker: My priorities are focused on building our network of ecotourism associations; strengthening our programs such as UCFC; finding new and exciting ways to serve our membership in the best way possible; further developing our Board of Directors representative of ecotourism worldwide; and enabling our dedicated and dynamic staff to the fullest extent, so that they can best serve our membership and ecotourism; and finding ways to increase the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of our organization as a whole.

I think we all hope that when we leave, some place, community, or person, is a little bit better off because of efforts we achieved together and ideas we implemented to make things work in a sustainable way. For TIES, I desire a future where our role changes due to the world-wide adoption of ecotourism and sustainable tourism principles into practice. We will continue to face global challenges due to political unrest, increasing populations, and challenges to biodiversity conservation - Ecotourism has proven its place in the world, that if done well and with principles in place, it is one of many solutions to biodiversity conservation and wise use of resources around the globe.

ECOCLUB.com: Finally, it is election year in the United States, the world's major power, and there is a prospect that the new administration will be more enthusiastic about environmental issues. It is customary that major environmental NGOs question and rate candidates before elections. Should TIES perhaps also ask candidates where they stand vis a vis Ecotourism? Or do you believe that TIES should stay away from politics altogether?

Kelly Bricker: TIES is a relatively small NGO with a very clear and direct focus on ecotourism and sustainable strategies. I am not sure it is necessarily our role to evaluate or rate the presidential candidates — I would rather see us focus on our Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference in Vancouver, B.C. October 27-29, and many other exciting initiatives we are engaged in! We have a lot work to do to make these the best yet—so it would be my vote to focus our efforts on building the ecotourism community, with of course all candidates invited to participate!

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.


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