International Ecotourism Society’s inaugural North American conference

The International Ecotourism Society’s inaugural Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference North America took place January 25-27 at the University of South Florida Patel College of Global Sustainability (PCGS) which is a LEED Gold certified building. This was the first major Sustainable Tourism Conference following the adoption of the United Nations Sustainability Goals and the outcomes of COP21 Climate Change negotiations in Paris, France.

Although ESTC holds international conferences every year, this is the first conference held for North America and over 200 professionals from around the world attended. The Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference is an annual global conference focused on highlighting and promoting ecotourism’s role in sustainable development and aims to strengthen the industry’s commitment to the recent UN resolution, “Promotion of Ecotourism for Poverty Eradication and Environment Protection.”

“A connection with nature is integral to our survival,” said Dr. David Randle, Professor and Chair of ST at USF in his keynote. “It’s a call to action that our planet has entered the Anthropocene era. The choice for humans is clear: we can either choose to protect our planet or we can allow it to be destroyed. But by destroying the planet, we destroy ourselves.”

Mr. Richard Jordan, chief of UN operations for the Royal Academy of Science International Trust, emphasized the importance of youth participation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals as well as the overarching need to eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions. Ecotourism can be a beneficial force for development of local economies especially through the economic empowerment of women.

Jon Bruno, acting executive director of TIES, note that the secondary effect of the economics of the Ecotourism industry in the local culture is that this money is actually positively and actively changing the dynamic without disrupting the community. The result is that tourism, sustainably developed and managed, is of much greater benefit than consumptive industries such as mining or logging. “The good news, as well, is 48% of millennial travelers under 30 say sustainability is one of their top three priorities for travel… this is a very hopeful trend for conservation and the welfare of indigenous stakeholders.”

The conference concluded on Wednesday, January 27th with keynote presentations from Dr. Kelly Bricker, professor and chair at the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism at the University of Utah and TIES chair, and Dr. Thomas Henry Culhane, professor at Mercy College NY, National Geographic Explorer, and Founder of Solar Cities, debuted the home biogas system, the first commercial system that can take the food waste from a family of four and turn it into reliable methane gas that they can cook on for up to two hours a day in perpetuity, as well as providing a nutrient rich liquid fertilizer as a second product which can be used to produce hydroponic food at zero cost! Amongst other projects debuting at the conference was the textbook “The Good Company: Sustainability in Hospitality, Tourism and Wine” which Dr. D’Arcy Dornan praised, saying, “The Good Company: Sustainability in Hospitality, Tourism, and Wine is our guidebook on the journey of sustainability, helping us to become sustainability‐system thinkers…”

Conference topics included:

– The Role of UNWTO Observatories in accelerating the Growth of Sustainable Tourism

– How the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism 2017” was prepared and adopted by the UN General Assembly

– Creating Sustainable Ecotourism through Adventure travel

– Ecotourism and indigenous communities case studies

The conference concluded with a dinner, locally-sourced dinner by the Chiles Group with ingredients coming from nearby community farms and fisheries on and around Anna Maria island.

The last big announcement:

Dr. Kelly Bricker announced during the closing speech that the next ESTC will officially be held in 2017 in Ansan-Si, South Korea.

In final questions she said, “The big goal here is when the meaning of the word tourism invokes sustainability.”


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