Ecotourism at Thala Beach Lodge
The problem is, what exactly does ecotourism mean? Does it mean that the resort owners now recycle their aluminum cans? Do they have a solar panel mounted in a suspiciously conspicuous place? Has their logo been redesigned in a pleasing leaf green color?
In order to take a real look at what ecotourism is, and the substance behind the "green" term, let's consider one of the most popular definitions.
The guiding principles of ecotourism were enumerated by Pamela Wight (1993):
- it should not degrade the resource and should be developed in an environmentally sound manner.
- it should provide first-hand, participatory, and enlightening experiences.
- it should involve education among all parties-local communities, government, NGOs, industry, and tourists (before, during, and after the trip).
- it should encourage all-party recognition of the intrinsic values of the resource.
- it should involve acceptance of the resource on its own terms, and in recognition of its own limits, which involves supply-oriented management.
- it should promote understanding and involve partnerships between many players, which could include government, NGOs, industry, scientists, and locals (both before and during operations).
- it should provide moral and ethical responsibilities and behaviors towards the natural and cultural environment, by all players.
- it should provide long-term benefits-to the resource, to the local community, and to industry (benefits may be conservation, scientific, social, cultural, or economic).
Now that we have thoroughly defined "ecotourism," let's take a look at a provider of ecotours in the Great Barrier Reef area, and how they live up to these standards:
Thala Beach Lodge, located near Port Douglas in Queensland, Australia, is a great example of a truly responsible ecotourism destination. From the very beginning, this resort has exemplified many of the tenets of ecotourism.
When the property for the resort was first purchased in the 1970s, two-thirds of it had been clearcut by the previous owners and turned into a sugar cane plantation. Rather than build the 700 room hotel that had been zoned for the area, the new owners chose to build a much smaller lodge of sustainable materials and plant thousands of indigenous plant species to rehabilitate the land's previously damaged natural habitats. This is a true case of not degrading the natural resources, but developing them instead.
Another tenet of ecotourism embodied by the Thala Beach Lodge is to involve partnerships with local communities. The elders of the local KuKu-Yalanji indigenous people visit the Lodge to share their knowledge of healing plants, local food and traditional musical instruments. This not only provides visitors with a unique look at the history and indigenous culture of the area, it strengthens the bond between cultures that might otherwise never meet.
So, next time you read the term "ecotourism," or see a logo of a pretty blue and green planet cradled by caring hands, be sure to investigate deeper to see if the claims and the imagery truly live up to the values of the ecotourism movement.
Wight, P. (1993). Ecotourism: ethics or eco-sell? Journal of Travel Research 31 (3), 3-9. doi: 10.1177/004728759303100301