Advanced Ecotourism | Certified since 1998
EA: Twenty years is a long time. What is something you’ve learnt over the years that you wish you had known 20 years ago?
WH: With Wildlife Habitat’s launch in 1989, we rapidly became a world leader in immersion exhibits. In the following 5 years, park management became aware of the growing concern and the need to preserve our flora and fauna. A plan was put in place to display and interpret the wildlife and flora of Tropical North Queensland, in particular the Wet Tropics region. This dynamic and ever-evolving plan was designed to take Wildlife Habitat into the new millennium, catering for the developing environmentally conscious market. It wasn’t until we went through the Eco-certification process that we came to realise that we actually already had many sustainable practices in place – these were already deeply embedded into our ethos and values. It was just a matter of reflecting on these, and then determining what needed to be implemented to achieve further excellence in eco-tourism.
EA: What piece of advice would you give to operators entering the ecotourism market today?
WH: As we know, tourism has evolved immensely in the past 20 years during this new digital age – social media has become the new “word of mouth”, which has in turn allowed the eco-tourist to become much more savvy and aware of operators who resort to ‘greenwashing’ – misusing the buzz words ‘ecotourism’ and ‘sustainability’ in an attempt to appear more ethical, and as a result, more saleable. As an ecotourism operator, you need to be genuinely committed to conservation and sustainability, rather than just using these labels for ‘green marketing’, as in this day and age, the eco-tourist will see right through it.
EA: What importance do you place in your ECO Certification?
WH: Our ECO Certification is something we wear with pride at Wildlife Habitat – it is at the forefront of all of our promotion, with the logo having prominently been featured on our brochures, websites and collateral over the past 20 years, and our Advanced Ecotourism status is often referred to when we describe ourselves. Furthermore, it is deeply embedded into the overall ethos of our park – to enable visitors to appreciate and understand the intricate interdependence of Wet Tropics flora and fauna by experiencing up close some of its inhabitants, and through this understanding, aid their conservation. Along with our strong sustainable practices and minimal impact on the natural environment, we’re committed to conservation via our onsite wildlife rescue program TARC (Tropical Animal Rehabilitation Centre), ensuring that injured, orphaned, or sick animals are looked after in a professional and caring manner.