Australia’s strong efforts toward building an ecotourism certification program has resulted in a globally recognized brand that is slowly being utilized by other countries that have recognized the need for providing “ecologically sustainable tourism with a primary focus on experiencing natural areas that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation.”
The voluntary ECO Certification was developed by Ecotourism Australia, which is a non-profit organization that is the nation’s main ecotourism industry association. It is open to all types of tour operators, accommodations, skippered cruises, bareboat charters, and attractions. The three levels of ECO certification are:
- Nature Tourism in a natural area that leaves a minimal impact on the environment
- Ecotourism that offers interesting ways to learn about the environment with a tour operator that uses resources wisely, conserves the environment and helps local communities
- Advanced Ecotourism offers natural experiences provided by tour operators who have achieved at least 75% of the advanced criteria for sustainable business, environmental, social/cultural, and interpretation/education principles.
For our purposes, the ecotour operator company applies to first conduct a self-assessment and then submits its self-assessment to a third-party, independent evaluator for verification. The verification/audit occurs anytime within 1 month of submitting the self-assessment up to 3 years thereafter. There is a one-time fee for the self-assessment and an annual fee to maintain the ECO designation. Both fees are based on annual gross revenues. Ecotour operators are evaluated in the following ten areas:
- Business Management and Operational Planning
- Business Ethics
- Responsible Marketing
- Customer Satisfaction
- Natural Area / Cultural Focus
- Environmental Management
- Interpretation and Education
- Contribution to Conservation
- Working with Local Communities
- Cultural Respect and Sensitivity
Click here for Ecotourism Australia’s Best Practices for the above areas of evaluation.
Click here for a listing of ecotour operator companies that have been awarded the ECO Certification.