This article is not based on statistical data; it is from anecdotal evidence of 12 years in the ecotourism industry as a guide. These points are ones to ponder and some are very obvious so they reinforce what is already known.
- Firstly, they want to interact with the environment, they most certainly don’t want to be sitting in the bus looking at the views. They want to engage the senses and be stimulated by their exciting surroundings.
- This brings up the next point. They want to have that location / surroundings enhanced by more knowledge / stories so it needs to be interpreted by a local or someone who possesses knowledge. This requires the person interpreting that environment to pick out the relevant bits because tourists are in a perpetual state of sensory overload so we must often break it down into sound bytes. If they want more information, they can ask. The interpretation must give it all context; for example: if you are visiting an ancient forest, to point out a large Kahikatea tree is not very interesting by itself, but if you tell people that this specimen was around in the dark ages and these trees were used in the early 1900’s to transport butter to Europe because it is an odourless wood, it now has some resonance with them and they can relate it to something they know. To have an educational dimension to your delivery is important and shows the ecotourist that you have an social conscience.
- Touch, smell, listen and feel is good within reason, it is ok to touch trees to feel their texture, stop for a minute and have a smell, listen to that wood pigeon flying away from us, the interpreter or guide does not have to talk all the time, the environment will do the talking if you set the scene for them to open their senses.
- As a guide or interpreter, you can let the ecotourist know that they are privileged to be where they are, this gives the trip a kind of mystique and uniqueness. It also will help you get your environmental message across that we want to have an absolute minimum impact.
- The environmental message is very important to the ecotourist; they want to experience these places but know that you the operator is looking after that place and have a vested interest in it. To mention that you give $2 every person to a revegetation project in the area is great and they will often be keen to either contribute more or even participate while they are there. One way to do this is to get your clients to do one task before you go on the trip or while out there, one good example is to pull out 10 weeds each before you move on.
- The environmental behaviour of your business is important and to let your clients know that you have processes in place to ensure that your business is having minimal impact on the environment is imperative. This can be done either by putting it in your marketing material or telling them on arrival. They can of course see if you have signed up for either Qualmark Green or GreenGlobe21 because they are recognised environmental auditors. The fact that these cost money and are hard to achieve is not a topic for this discussion but it is recognised that it can be a strain on a business to keep these standards up and also a large financial commitment.
- The ecotourist is also very interested in the culture they are in. It is very common to be asked about the political system or any cultural issues that are important in New Zealand. It is great if you or your guides are up on local issues and can relate them to their visitors. They are there to visit your attraction / location but you will usually have a lot of time to talk about other subjects like this. This brings up the point that you need a good communicator and a bit of maturity really helps. If you have a good guide working for you… keep them on and work to keep them, they are gold.
Overall the ecotourist is, in my opinion, much the same as other tourists but they are more demanding that you are looking after your back yard. If you provide them with opportunities to offset their carbon footprint they are more likely to participate than other tourists.