Built on the sound principles of conservation, community, environment, education & sustainable economic growth, Eco-tourism is much more than a buzzword today. It has enabled lesser-known destinations to reach out to travellers, while nourishing local communities & reducing the negative impacts of tourism. Shrinking travel times & costs have made visiting popular destinations today a rather hectic holiday experience, driving the more discerning travel tribes to embrace Ecotourism destinations with a difference, that offer a relaxing & enriching experience.

Impact of the digital age The internet has been the biggest enabler, transforming the way we search & access information forever. However, the information linked to ecotourism options & access to it mostly not easy to come by. It is rare to find credible information that is readily available via the most commonly used online travel search tools used by travellers. Needless to say when they do stumble upon such information, it is unstructured (not packaged) & in most cases does not allow the traveller to book, pay & confirm activities or accommodation instantaneously. It is critical to note that today’s travellers search & purchase behavior is conditioned by the online market place. A fast paced & dynamic domain where the conversion of clicks to purchases is bordering on the fringe of, if not already a science. Are ecotourism destinations, projects & businesses taking the right approach to leverage available technology, to effectively inspire & engage travellers?

This situation of lack of visibility & ability to actively engage with the travellers can make the best eco-tourism options become the best-kept secrets. This, in an increasing number of cases creates problems, starved of actual tourist arrivals & unable to deliver on the promised socio-economic returns to communities involved, eco-tourism destinations often find their voices drowned out in the din of a crowded global travel bazaar.

Global tourism industry – large, dynamic & complex Employing almost 10% of world population (Direct & Indirect), representing over 9% of the global GDP and growing at a rapid pace, the global tourism market is large, dynamic, complex with multiple layers, service providers & stakeholders. At the centre of this industry ecosystem is the all-powerful traveller that drives the industry forward, with new demands & trends. It is therefore no surprise that an Eco-tourism project that does not focus on effectively engaging the traveller, is inevitably going to struggle to achieve its objectives.

Driving ecotourism, through active traveller engagement Ecotourism cements sustainable tourism development. The benefits of ecotourism are possibly most evident within emerging markets who are most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of a tourism. However, one can only realise the true power of ecotourism by complimenting it with a plan to engage, innovate & inspire the traveller, via technology they are familiar with & on a platform they search & shop.

ENGAGE

  • Know your traveller type, look beyond the plain demographics. Not everyone fits in a box anymore & there are new traveller tribes emerging frequently.
  • Learn of their search & shopping habits, key influencers, purchase triggers to preferred payment methods. Only once you know their behavior can you actively engage them.
  • Ensure you are effectively engaging via both online & offline channels. This is no longer a nice to have but mission critical.
  • Partner, educate & empower travel intermediaries i.e. Travel agents, Destination management companies, Online travel agencies and more to effectively communicate & inspire travellers to engage in ecotourism.

INNOVATE

  • Don’t follow the beaten track, adapt & evolve with your target traveller type.
  • Go beyond the traditional distribution channels & partners. Leverage technology & harness the power of social & digital marketing to communicate & reach new travellers.
  • Remember, practice makes perfect so don’t be shy to experiment. Failure is the first step to success.

INSPIRE

Not looking for just another holiday but for inspiration. Create & communicate your story effectively so that the travellers can not only understand & appreciate the experience but in turn inspire other travellers.

Enable travellers to be part of something larger, a cause, an experience, a community & they will love you for it.

It is time that we compliment the efforts of the environment, community, and sustainability guru’s involved in structuring the ecotourism projects with travel industry expertise. Travel experts with first hand experience need to be involved from the initial stages of the project so they can shape the traveller engagement platform. This is today a must have, as the true success of a project lies in its ability to deliver on the socio-economic promise, demonstrate change to involved communities & provide an unforgettable experience to travellers.