Advanced Ecotourism | Certified since 2000
EA: How do you see the current circumstances influencing the ecotourism market over the next few years?
AE: The COVID-19 lockdown in Queensland put an end to international and interstate tourism, although the latter is starting to become possible again, and we have hopes for New Zealand flights here in 2021
As more than 95% of our guests are international and most of our domestic tourists are from interstate, our business closed for a few months this year, which at least gave me a chance to finish my book “Understanding Australia’s Wildlife” and start work on a couple of others.
Coronavirus lockdown won’t last forever, but other problems are likely to arise in future years, so we are now planning a shift in emphasis towards catering for domestic guests, with a major focus on families, retirees and students. We will keep our original tours but emphasise the educational component and add in some citizen science where feasible.
We are also planning to run nature activities at a local resort and are re-visiting a previous idea of nature study camps for amateur naturalists of all ages (introduction to bird watching, introduction to local native plant identification, basics of wildlife ecology, basics of wildlife behaviour). Araucaria Tours is also continuing to develop a wildlife ecology centre and nature trails on our property for use by our own guests and also by grey nomads, families and other holiday campers at a neighbouring campground.
EA: Over the past 20 years have you ever had any high profile/celebrity guests of note?
AE: While I was attending (and presenting at) the World Parks Congress in Sydney, my son Darren called me to say someone in admin for the G20, which was happening in Brisbane simultaneously, wanted him to lead a birding tour for a president’s wife. I asked “which president? Obama? Does Putin have a wife?” They hadn’t yet told him, but soon rang again. It was for Madame Van Rompuy, wife of the then president of the European Union. They said she’d be flying in that morning and would need a rest first, so they would meet him at Tambourine at 9.00am. Darren said it was a pity to start a birding tour so late in the morning. They conveyed that message to Madame Van Rompuy, who apparently said “of course, I’m a birdwatcher, I want to start as early as possible!”. Consequently, they met closer to 6.00am, with one of her friends and five bodyguards, one of whom rode in the tour vehicle with the others following behind. After finding colourful wompoo fruitdoves and other birds at Tamborine Skywalk and jacanas and other waterbirds at the Fred Bucholz Park, Darren asked if she’d like to visit the fruit bat colony at Canungra, and she quickly agreed. She was so fascinated she spent about three quarters of an hour photographing them. They returned to Tamborine Mountain via the “Goat Track”, the security guard looking unaccustomedly alert throughout but Madame Van Rompuy and her friend enjoying the steep forest drive. As they said goodbye, she gave Darren a hug, presented him with a pen and told him to get in touch if he ever visits Belgium.
EA: How does being a member of Ecotourism Australia match your company’s values?
AE: I can probably answer this best with a very brief history. I’ve been fascinated with nature from infancy, and concerned with conservation ever since, at age four, I saw trees near our home being cleared and (on a separate day) my father’s boss coming into our kitchen with a wedge-tailed eagle he had shot while duck-hunting. I soon talked my father out of ever going duck-hunting with him again.
On leaving school I started a holiday farm on a partly wooded property (long story, and the subject of a future book), one of my aims being to awaken an interest in nature study (as well as horsemanship, caring for native and domestic animals, hiking, and campfire singalongs).
I then started a science degree culminating in a PhD in zoology. After a break from academia (another long story), while continuing casual lecturing and research, I decided I’d like to do something in between a field study centre and the holiday farm, and when I heard the word “ecotourism” it seemed to match my own interests in experiencing native habitats, providing nature education and supporting biodiversity conservation.
So, Araucaria Ecotours was born. I was soon asked – with my academic experience and now also running such a business – to join the research team in the wildlife tourism sector of the CRC for Sustainable Tourism, and readily accepted. We offered some wildlife-viewing guidelines for a review of one of Ecotourism Australia’s early versions of their certification process. I was very keen to have our own tours certified, to demonstrate that although obviously we had to make enough money to survive as a business, my primary motives lay in nature appreciation and education, and highlighting the need (to public and government) for conservation of wildlife and their habitats, and of biodiversity generally.
As current chair of Wildlife Tourism Australia, casual lecturer, organiser of wildlife tourism training classes (and authoring a book on same), presenter at numerous conferences (including Global Eco) and during our tours, I’ve continued to convey these messages, while not detracting from the holiday atmosphere for tour guests.