Partnership to Develop Sustainable Tourism in the Indian Ocean Territories

by | Aug 29, 2023 | Article

Red Crab Migration, Christmas Island

Ecotourism Australia has partnered with The University of Queensland (UQ) and Christmas Island Tourism Association (CITA) to strengthen tourism sustainability within the Indian Ocean Territories (IOT) Marine Parks with grant funding recently awarded by Parks Australia.

The grant project is building on existing enthusiasm for responsible tourism initiatives in the IOT by developing a pathway to sustainability and world-class ecotourism in the region and will run for two years. The IOT offers visitors an immersive nature experience to scuba dive reefs with abundant marine life, get to know the local culture or witness the iconic annual red crab migration on Christmas Island. Tourism Australia’s Global Future of Tourism Demand research in 2022 found that more than 75% of travellers from 20 key markets are committed to sustainability in some way. It is integral that small island communities, such as the IOT, are supported and equipped in tools to ensure tourism has a positive impact on their place and people as visitation to the area grows.

“The award of the IOT Marine Park Grant will boost the region’s capacity for and understanding of sustainable tourism by creating a pathway to globally recognised Certification through Ecotourism Australia’s Strive 4 Sustainability Scorecard and for some operators, progression to ECO or Sustainable Tourism Certification,” said Ms Elissa Keenan, Chief Executive of Ecotourism Australia.

“Sustainability is no longer a nice to have, it is an essential aspect of any tourism business and visitor expectations are rapidly changing. Increasingly, experiences and destinations that are committed to minimising environmental impact and supporting local community and culture are prioritised by tourists. It is essential that we support the IOT community to equip them with the tools to attract responsible visitors who are considerate of the pristine place they visit.”

Regular engagement with key stakeholders including Parks Australia, Australian Marine Parks, CITA, local councils, the IOT Regional Development Organisation and tourism operators, will ensure the project continues to prioritise local industry needs.

“Collaboration with the Christmas Island Tourism Association will provide on-the-ground insights and expertise to engage operators more effectively in the Scorecard and Certification programs,” said Ms Keenan.

“Advanced Ecotourism Certified accommodation Swell Lodge is currently the only Certified operator on Christmas Island, and we look forward to other businesses joining them in the coming months and years.”

“Responsible tourism is the key to preserving the natural wonders that make the island so extraordinary,” said Ms Sarah Coote, Destination Marketing Manager at Christmas Island Tourism Association.

“We are thrilled to witness the growing demand among both visitors and locals to embrace sustainability and eco-friendly practices in our tourism industry.

“This project is an incredible opportunity for Christmas Island tourism operators to become ambassadors of sustainability, protective of our natural wonders, and advocates for responsible travel. By doing so, we not only safeguard our island’s treasures but also inspire sustainable tourism standards across the industry,” Ms Coote said.

The University of Queensland – one of Australia’s top research-intensive institutions – will be leading the project management and research arm of the project, exploring the topic of sustainable development and planning for tourism with input supplied by local industry.

“We are excited to receive this Indian Ocean Territories Marine Park grant from Parks Australia for this important ecotourism project in collaboration with Ecotourism Australia and Christmas Island Tourism Association,” said Dr Noreen Breakey, research project lead and ecotourism expert from The University of Queensland.

“This research will elicit the community’s vision for tourism activity in their precious part of the world, which will then inform the recommendations developed to support the Indian Ocean Territories in planning and realising a sustainable tourism future,” explained Dr Breakey.

In the first stage of the project, local operators have the opportunity to participate in a complimentary Strive 4 Sustainability Scorecard thanks to the Parks Australia grant funding. The Scorecard enables businesses to learn sustainable business practices and receive personalised feedback for further business development. Ecotourism Australia will use the Scorecard insights to benchmark sustainability initiatives in the region to inform the next stages of the project. Operators will be invited to attend a workshop during an onsite visit in October by Ecotourism Australia and UQ. Conversation with stakeholders and industry whilst onsite will establish the project’s research priorities.

The second stage will oversee the development of a targeted sustainable tourism toolkit to address sustainability gaps and highlight local best practices identified in the first round Strive 4 Sustainability Scorecards. In the third stage, a final onsite visit to Christmas Island will be held to deliver ongoing assistance for businesses on their certification journey.

The IOT Marine Park Grant compliments the recent establishment of the Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Island Marine Parks in 2022. It seeks to enhance the protection, promotion, understanding of and engagement in the marine environment as well as increase local employment and sustainable economic growth on the islands.

Tourism operators located in the Indian Ocean Territories are eligible to register for a complimentary Strive 4 Sustainability Scorecard, however places are limited. For more information and to register for a complimentary scorecard click here.

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Media Contact:
Ecotourism Australia: Georgie Snare, Communications and Events Officer, (e): georgie@ecotourism.org.au (ph): 07 3256 6777

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