When is an ecotourism resort not ecotourism? When it is greenwashing

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Ecotourism or greenwashing?

The term ‘ecotourism' is being applied to a tourism development which has ignited substantial public opposition in Southern New South Wales Australia and is potentially a significant decision for the NSW Regional Development Panel.

The mountain top farm location is the proposed site for over 40 villas, function hall, spa and other facilities in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Currently this land is zoned for agricultural use only. It can only be rezoned to permit a tourism development if it is ecotourism. To justify its ecotourism proposition the developer's architect has incorporated the endangered Brush-Tailed Rock-Wallaby (located in nearby Kangaroo Valley) as, in my opinion, a tokenistic gesture to create a wildlife conservation programme. However, this submission's integrity has been brought into question as it refers to a government agency's and Taronga Zoo's involvement in supporting the conservation programme. This has now been proven to be false.

Such is the scale of the proposal that a government regional planning body is involved in determining the future of the project. They have to consider if the project is indeed an ecotourism resort. If they permit this type of development with its current explanatory materials then there is the potential to turn other agricultural land into ecotourism resorts using no more than inferences, suggestions and techniques but little integrity in the true concept of ecotourism as defined by Ecotourism Australia, UNWTO and Buckley R. (2003) who states:

"Since even the best-managed ecotourism produces environmental impacts, an ecotourism enterprise can only produce a positive environmental bottom line if it makes a contribution to conservation that outweighs those impacts....[otherwise it] is not conceptually distinct from environmental management in any other industry sector such as mining." Buckley, R. (2003) pp.300

This means that impacts have to be identified and measured in order for mitigation and adaption to ‘outweigh' negative consequences. However, in the case of Rockfield Park the developer's submission appears to only apply superficial methods to comply with a misty understanding of the concept that is ecotourism held by planning regulations. This can be demonstrated by the use of language contained in the consultant's reports to signal ecotourism. If such projects are permitted on the basis of these proposals then it is comparatively easy for a developer to claim ecotourism without undertaking actions beyond normal country life in rural Australia (as demonstrated by the countless tourism businesses that already save energy, water, provide interpretation on wildlife and so forth). Signalling words imply ecotourism without actually complying with any significant social economic or environmental impacts. They suggest through frequent use  an environmental focus.

So for example in the report the following words are frequently used:
• ‘environment' (36 times)
• ‘conservation' (20 times)
• ‘community' (12 times)
• ‘interpretation' (7 times)
• 'renewable energy' (6 times)

However, there are no social or economic impacts measured. There are insufficient off-site environmental impacts accounted for in these documents. There are no identified benchmarks applied to mitigate the negative impacts. Consequently the triple bottom line is weakly applied. Yet the signally words indicate an ecotourism commitment.

The use of signalling words and promises should not be the measure of ecotourism's definition if it is to "outweigh" impacts. What should be required from developers is how they are to improve the ecological environment, mitigate off-site environmental impacts (light and noise pollution), reduce consumption of non- renewable resources (set against benchmarks), reduce transport pollution, and detail the maximisation of social and economic benefits for the local community. Of course if the community is opposed to the project then this would seem to be a fundamental flaw. Ecotourism can contribute to the conservation of a community's sense of place but a developer must have their support. 

Without such details a developer's proposal might be seen as greenwashing.

"To mislead the public by falsely representing a person, company, product etc. as being environmentally responsible" Oxford English Dictionary (1999)

Compare the developers reports (attached here and freely obtained from the local council's website) with my observations. Currently council planners have a difficult job because ecotourism is a generalised term with a lack of detailed guidelines to explain and justify its use. Councils are also powerless to monitor ecotourism credentials after completion, then it is too late to reverse a site's change. For example the planning definition calls for ISO 14000 application but does not indicate any mechanism for continuous monitoring by the authorities. These are factors which need to be addressed, otherwise we could lose the unspoilt natural beauty and cultural heritage landscape that attracts visitors in the first place. Permitting such developments as Rockfield Park would fuel expansion of tourism development in rural areas, weaken the ecotourism proposition and reduce the rural character of quaint villages and hamlets.

To assist others to fight plans which do not meet the ethos of ecotourism, or the triple bottom line framework, or a measurement, monitoring and management plan, read my arguments in the attached response. See the  television news report that reveals the developer's integrity. In the absence of legislation which defines ecotourism and its responsible tourism practices, be wary of signal words and empty promises.


Response to Rockfield Park Development (PDF)375.15 KB
Thermal Environment (PDF)615.54 KB
Architects Statement (PDF)182.95 KB
Ecotourism definition provided by Shoalhaven City Council.pdf139.01 KB
Ecotourism Consultants.pdf299.09 KB