Changing Perceptions Through Ecotours
Volume 1 Number 1 - April 2004
Rusty Worsman and Karen Gray
Mount Tomah Botanic Garden is the cool climate garden of the Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney. It is located 100 kilometres west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains at an altitude of 1000 metres. The Garden has a representation of mainly Gondwanan flora. In 1994 a spectacular 186 hectare property adjoining the Garden was purchased primarily to access water. The property contains a stunning array of Australian flora in a rugged Blue Mountains landscape.
The tourism industry’s growth brings with it a need to protect the environment to ensure its future success - as a large part of the industry exists chiefly because of the attractiveness and quality of the environment (Stabler 1997). The Blue Mountains region supports an extensive tourist industry and is famous for its adventure and nature-based activities such as canyoning, climbing, bush walking and mountain biking. Nature based tourism often relies more on the ‘wow’ of the nature without any interpretation. Ecotourism is distinct from other forms of nature based tourism in that it involves interpretation of natural and cultural environments and ecologically sustainable management of the natural area being visited. It supports conservation and brings benefits to the local community (Beeton 1998).
Where to Start?
Visitors to Mount Tomah Botanic Garden were surveyed to assess their interest in participating in an ecotour. The Ecotour product needed to be defined: what should be offered? What would be the tour options? How long should it be? Who was our target market? Links were made with the local tourism industry to understand the local market and assist in promotion. The trail was constructed by selecting the most appropriate route to minimise any environmental impact. The track width was limited to one person to reduce the need for vegetation clearance and enhance the wilderness experience of the tour. Research was conducted to develop the most effective interpretation for the tour, such as sourcing local history and talking to the local community. Promotional material including a brochure and website was then designed and produced.
The Mount Tomah Ecotour concept has been developed in consultation with tourism groups and the University of Western Sydney - Hawkesbury. An important network was created between Ecotourism Operators in the Blue Mountains and members of C.A.S.T. (Community Alliance for Sustainable Tourism) who represent different segments of the industry including accommodation, tours, Blue Mountains City Council and tourism centres. This network provides the opportunity to stay updated with trends in the industry, local issues and, most importantly, to provide a cohesive voice to strengthen the ecotourism philosophy in an area which has predominantly nature-based tourism. This is even more relevant now the local area is World Heritage listed.
Visitors have the opportunity to experience the spectacular environment, with interpretation provided by their education officer guide. The many points of interest include:
The presentation is delivered in an enjoyable, friendly and engaging manner and pitched at the appropriate level so all visitors leave with not only interesting information, but also an understanding of the intrinsic value of conservation and the role they can play. This is easy to present in such a spectacular setting.
Visitor effect is monitored to minimise negative impacts. Groups are limited to a maximum of 12 people, as recommended in current industry research. Track management includes erosion monitoring, measuring leaf litter, resting the track during the off-season, water quality assessment and using other indicators to identify environmental impacts (Hammitt & Cole, 1998). The initial carrying capacity of the Ecotour, with the current track construction, is estimated at 1,000 people per annum. This represents a maximum of three groups per week. To date this has not been exceeded, with approximately three hundred visitors since the tour was launched in 1998.
Experience has indicated that the term ‘Ecotour’ might inhibit people from joining the tour as they may not have an understanding of the concept of ‘Ecotourism’. Recent comments at the Conference on Ecotourism in Australia indicated that there is a need to raise the awareness of the general concept of ecotourism. Currently we are exploring marketing the Tomah Ecotour using the title ‘Wilderness and Wildflowers’. The benefit of Ecotour Accreditation is also being investigated through the Ecotourism Association of Australia and Green Globe. This would include raising the profile of green tourism and environmental best practice. Ultimately the whole of Mount Tomah Botanic Garden, as a major tourist attraction in the Blue Mountains, may obtain Ecotourism accreditation.
Beeton, S. 1998, Ecotourism - A practical guide for rural communities, Landlinks Press, Collingwood, Australia.
Le jardin botanique du mont Tomah est le jardin de climat froid du Botanic Gardens Trust de Sydney. Il est situé à 100 km à l’ouest de Sydney, dans les Blues Moutains, à une altitude de 1000 mètres. Le jardin présente surtout la flore du Gondwana. En 1994, une remarquable propriété de 186 hectares attenante au jardin a été acquise essentiellement pour disposer de ressources en eau. La propriété abrite une formidable collection de plantes australiennes poussant dans un paysage accidenté des Blue Moutains.
El Jardín Botánico Mount Tomah es el jardín de clima templado del fideicomiso de jardines botánicos de Sidney (Botanic Gardens Trust). Se localiza a 100 km al oeste de Sidney en las Montañas Azules a una altitud de 1000 m. El jardín tiene representada principalmente la flora de Gondwana. En 1994, se adquirió una espectacular propiedad de 186 hectáreas adjuntas al jardín botánico con el fin de tener acceso al agua. La prpopiedad tiene un arreglo asombroso de la flora australiana en el rugoso paisaje de esta Montañas.
About the Authors
Rusty Worsman and Karen Gray are Community Education Officers at Mount Tomah Botanic Garden
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