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Creating Interpretive Experience In A Conservation Area

Creating Interpretive Experiences in Ecotourism

In this post we look at How To Create An Interpretive Experience associated with an ecotourism experience within a Special Area of Conservation in Ireland.

Ecotourism, as defined by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, typically incorporates a feature of conservation that may be ecological, cultural, historical, archaeological and/or spiritual. The experience should seek to simultaneously immerse visitors in this feature and it’s characteristics whilst preserving it, thus creating a ‘sustainable experience‘.

Careful consideration need be taken to ensure the integrity of the site and features are not impacted by proposed use, nor the access to the features by local peoples affected. In essence, the conservation features should not be altered by the proposed activities, yet means for providing opportunities to immerse within the experience need to bring visitors into close contact with it for it to have any ‘interpretive value‘.

Clearly then, ensuring the sustainability of the conservation features requires considerable research, consultation and planning. It is essential that this process include and be informed by the Interpretive Theme of the experience.

Interpretive Themes vs Topics

An experience with an essence of conservation at it’s core typically can be found to have a main theme or indeed multiple themes that give meaning to, and reasons for the attitude of preservation of the feature(s). Themes go far beyond simple topics, and it has been shown by research and experience that learning and understanding are enhanced by the thematic approach (Ham, 1992), as opposed to the instructive, topic based approach.

An example of a topic may be: Nature and Health.

An example of a theme may be: After experiencing nature first hand, interacting with plants and animals personally, people begin to sense the importance of being in nature for their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

Thus to create an Interpretive experience the core themes of it must be identified and consensus reached on how best to communicate this to the visitor, while preserving the resource(s).

The concept of thematic interpretation was first proposed by Freeman Tilden inInterpreting Our Heritage (1957) and later by Dr. Grant W. Sharpe in his work,Interpreting the Environment (1976). Thematic Interpretation was later popularised byDr. Sam H. Ham in Environmental Interpretation (1992).

The common perspective in these works is that thematic interpretation is a process that provokes the visitor or audience to think for themselves, thus developing a subjective understanding of the experience, as opposed to being instructed to accept a particular view point or set of ‘facts’.

In later years thematic interpretation has been more often referred to as thematic communication and adopted in programs aimed at altering environmental behaviours, occupational health and safety, risk assessment and communication and sustainable development.


How To Engage Visitors By Interpretation?

As discussed interpretation is not direct dissemination of facts and viewpoints, but a process of communication that assists visitors to understand the story or theme within the landscape, culture or special site they are visiting. Think ‘immersion in the experience’ as opposed to just talking about it.

The theme or story may be site and regionally specific, but may have further reaching implications to the region of origin of the visitor, and to the global community too! It’s easy to see then how an engaging interpretive experience may create considerable impact within the awareness of the visitor, the potential flow-on effects of which are incalculable.

When such an approach is used to share conservation and preservation themes, and other similar themes, the resulting impact is more personally engaging and thus more likely to remain within the awareness of the individual and groups.

As Sir David Attenborough puts it;

“No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no-one cares about what they’ve never experienced.”

Typical ways visitors can be engaged in thematic interpretation is by way of walks, talks, tours, media, signage and art, all containing the messages of the theme(s). Furthermore, interactive experiences, particularly first hand of nature and animals, are very powerful experiences that create a strong personal link with the theme. In general, the more informal and fun the experience, the greater the impact of the theme.

Developing An Interpretive Experience

Some steps to take…

In this particular case we are talking about an Interpretive Trail we gained approval for from the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Ireland. The trail is located within a section of a Special Area of Conservation, Drummin Wood SAC 002181, registered under the EU Habitats Directive. The trail is part of the ecotourism experience we managed, Crann Og Eco Farm, Certified Gold Ecotourism Operator 2015 – 2019.

The approved trail, to be used as part of the ecotourism experience, forest school classes and guided nature therapy walks, is regarded as a blueprint project for ecotourism operators in Ireland. The trail essentially meanders through the conservation area on pre-existing ancient pathways and tracks, taking in numerous points of interest within the oak woodland. The experience is prefaced by, and used to promote the Leave No Trace Codes for Outdoor Conduct.

Determining the Themes

The starting point for the development of an interpretive experience is arriving at conscensus on the core theme(s) of the experience, and the perceived target audience of the interpretation. In this case the themes arose from years of experience engaging visitors in different activities on different scales.

Enhanced knowledge and training helped for the themes to become clear;

Re-connecting with nature and becoming aware of nature’s cycles and our inter-dependency with nature.

Disconnecting or ‘unplugging’ from information technology to slow down into the moment in nature to release stress, relax, and for benefits of emotional and physical health.

Finding ways to explore and have fun for children and parents together, naturally.

Conservation of nature and the rarity of bio-diverse habitats in Ireland. Discussions, exploration and tours of special area of conservation.

Ecotourism and it’s potential benefits to nature conservation.

Exploring edges and expanding limits of personal and familial experience and levels of comfort in a natural world setting.

Enhancing mental health through interacting with the natural world, stimulating the senses through multi-sensory experiences.

Conservation of resources and energy and the endless possibilities of the concepts of reduce, re-use and recycle.

Once the thematic content and aims of the interpretive experience have been determined, the means of communication and interaction, that is the content and structure, must be designed. Along with this, the techniques for facilitating the experience that best suit the themes, engaging facilitation for the target audience, and the overlying aims of the project, should be determined before moving into the application phase.

Read the full article here where we discuss:

Attaining Regulatory Approval

Stakeholder Liaison

Identifying Key Experience and Training Needs

Communication of The Experience Pre & Post Visit

Development of Interpretive Materials

Evaluation & Management



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5 Reasons you will want to visit this Victoria, B.C. neighborhood

“Don’t think there are no crocodiles because the water is calm” Malay proverb

Victoria is often linked with afternoon teas and retirement condos for seniors but as I slipped into Oak Bay, a small community in the Victoria capital region, I discovered an unexpectedly eclectic destination; much of it was hidden in plain sight.

Oak Bay has it’s own sea monster

Although Oak Bay is only a ten minute drive from downtown Victoria this municipality of 18,000 boasts its own police force, a main street that closes for tea party races, two marinas, and its own sea monster. Popular with British settlers, hence the moniker “behind the tweed curtain”, Oak Bay streets are dotted with Faux Tudor architecture and manicured flowerbeds.

I settled into a chair overlooking Haro Strait at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and sipped a pinot gris as I watched visitors enter The Snug pub. According to the sign near the door it was established in 1954 but the date seemed at odds with the sparkling new appearance of the hotel.

Oak Bay Beach Hotel was put in storage for six years & now it’s better than ever

I learned the hotel’s long-time owner had closed the beloved hotel in 2006 to make it earthquake-resistant. For six months the hotel was dismantled; items destined to be reused were put into climate-controlled storage. Even plants were dug up and sent to a farm outside of town until restoration was complete. Unfortunately restorations took six years and shortly after the new hotel opened it went into receivership.

The hotel is now owned by OB Hotels Ltd. and continues to offer ocean views just past its mineral pools. Sea lions and orcas are sometimes seen and river otters have been spotted in the hotel fountain. I watched bats and humming birds from my balcony as dusk settled on the water.

Kayaking here offers the best wildlife viewing

Early the next morning I met Brian Henry, owner of Ocean Rivers Sports in the lobby for a morning kayak trip. “I met my wife in the Snug Pub,” he recalled on his connection to the storied property. “Oak Bay has so much nature, with more birdlife, more marine mammals and sea life. The currents in Oak Bay area are also much more active and vibrant.”

Our group of kayakers followed him down the road to Oak Bay Marina where Henry has a specially crafted dock. I climbed into my kayak on the dock before being gently eased into the water guaranteeing there was no water in my kayak and no me in the water!

Once underway Henry pointed out a river otter splashing nearby. We practiced our paddle strokes as we kayaked past several purple martin houses installed by marina owners. Purple birds dipped and soared as they gobbled up insects.

We road the swells to Harris Island where harbour seals basked in the sun. I grabbed a shiny strand of bull kelp as Henry encouraged us to taste it. The salty, crunchy seaweed was better than expected.

Wild seals have turned into buskers

Returning to shore we spotted several seals patrolling the waters underneath the harbour office and gift shop. With a $3 bag of chopped fish I was able to turn these playful pinnipeds into seal buskers. Wanting me to throw food their way, one seal slapped its stomach, another clapped its front flippers and barked, one seemed to flutter upright but it was the one who waved that got my fish. Out of food I left these entrepreneurial marine mammals and headed back to the hotel.

Small gardens are yours to discover

Although you can walk to many places in Oak Bay I needed extra time for unexpected nature. Small gardens are tucked throughout the community and I slipped into Oak Bay Native Plant Garden where old oaks stood watch over ponds sheltering rare plants.

I lingered on a bench and breathed deeply, alone in a garden meters from where cyclists and drivers zipped by. They may have been unaware of the interesting discoveries to be made in Oak Bay but I was glad I’d taken time to peek behind the curtain.

If you go:

Oak Bay Beach Hotel offers waterfront lodging and mineral baths. Visit the spa before lounging near the ocean to watch for wildlife.

Ocean River Sports offers kayaking suitable for beginners

Dine at Vis-a-Vis restaurant on Oak Bay Avenue for local cuisine Oak Bay Beach Hotel offers free shuttles if you want to indulge in B.C. wines.


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Tourism Development in the Rangelands of Western Australia

Western Australia’s Rangelands cover around 87 per cent (2,266,000 sq. km) of the State’s land mass, and 75 per cent of its coastline (Figure 1). Land tenure within this area comprises pastoral leases, freehold, unallocated Crown Land, National Parks, Conservation Reserves, Special Purpose Leases and Aboriginal Reserves and mining leases.

This area includes a diverse group of relatively undisturbed ecosystems such as tropical savannahs, woodlands, shrub lands and grasslands. Rangelands extend across low rainfall areas and variable climates, including arid, semi-arid, and some seasonally high rainfall areas and sub-tropic climates in the far north of the State.

Many of the State’s iconic landscapes are located within these rangeland areas, and provide Western Australia with unique attractions for marketing and promotions that will attract visitors. While a number of tourism experiences including accommodation, tours and activities operate within this environment, the vast expanse, distances between destinations, and impact of seasonality presents challenges for
existing and prospective tourism businesses.

The purpose of this document is to provide guidance on how tourism can best be developed on the rangelands in order to meet these challenges and deliver high quality experiences that provide a point of difference. This recognises that tourism has the potential to increase employment opportunities, diversify economic activity, and help level out seasonality of labour and income in rural and regional communities, which have traditionally relied on primary industry.

To achieve this, consideration is given to gaps in product, challenges and potential opportunities. The document outlines a series of principles designed to support sustainable tourism development, and examines case studies to inform decision making processes. Information and links to further resources on tenure and legislative and regulatory approval requirements are also provided to assist potential proponents
in understanding these matters.

To read more: 


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How to design sustainable tourism

In this article, I share my vision of the meaning of sustainability in tourism, but also how to implement the concept to the ground.


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Ecotourism in Croatia has a bright green future

Croatia, where I live, is the well known Mediterranean tourist destination. According to the latest data from our Ministry of Tourism there where 17 Million Tourists Flock to Croatia in 2017. Istria was the most visited region, followed by Split-Dalmatia County, Kvarner, Zadar County and Dubrovnik-Neretva County.

To distance itself as a mass tourism destination the Croatian tourism industry must seek new ways of furthering its development, which will enable it to gain the sustainable competitive advantages that it obviously needs. Clearly, one of the possible ways of achieving this is through ecotourism.

Croatia even though is well known Mediterranean tourist destination has more to offer to tourists than just beautiful beaches. In Croatia, we are blessed with 8 National parks, 2 strict reserves and 11 Nature parks each offering something magical and beautiful.

With a solid foundation of eco-conscious organizations, local experiences, and dedication to socio-cultural and environmental sustainability, ecotourism in Croatia has a bright green future. Providing the industry continues to develop in a responsible and considerate manner, focusing on local tourism businesses, empowering local communities to get involved, environmental protection, and socio-cultural preservation, Croatia could soon be a leading nation in ecotourism experiences.

Croatia as a tourist destination want to distance it selves as a mass tourism destination, so an international conference on ecotourism in Mediterranean protected areas recently took place in Split, bringing together 60 representatives of protected areas and travel agencies who are together creating new ecotourism products.

Participants in the conference agreed that ecotourism could be a genuine solution to the current tourism challenges in the Mediterranean. As an alternative to the mass tourism ecotourism in Croatia can take into account local tradition and heritage as well as their biodiversity.

In addition to that in the DestiMED project which was financed from the European Union's, data was collected for an innovative approach to reducing tourism impact on natural resources which are maintained by protected area communities.

The Mediterranean protected areas have the tools and know-how necessary so that tourism can have a positive impact on them, and they can also work with other parks to promote a new vision of Mediterranean tourism.

In Croatia, the project is implemented by WWF Adria in the Lastovo Archipelago Nature Park and the Kornati National park.

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The Adventure Angels 3rd “Abundance Scholarship” for a Woman-Owned Adventure Business from an Emerging Destination

May 14, 2018 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                

 For the third consecutive year, the Adventure Angels, in partnership with the Adventure Travel Trade Association, are offering our “Abundance” scholarship to support a woman-owned business owner from an emerging destination. The scholarship enables the business owner to attend the Adventure Travel World Summit, the ATTA’s annual B2B professional development and networking event.

The Adventure Angels are a group of 10 women who met and bonded at ATTA professional events.  We are a fun and adventurous group of women who are passionate travel professionals and entrepreneurs. The Adventure Angels include female travel agents, tour operators, media and consultants. We aim to cultivate meaningful relationships and mindful connections. Our mission is: “Leap. Discover. Inspire.”

The scholarship was inspired by ATTA’s mission of empowering the global community to do good through travel.  “We created the scholarship in 2016 as a response to ATTA President Shannon Stowell’s challenge to carry forward the “Viva La Revolucion de la Aventura” theme of ATWS-2015 in Chile. The members of the Adventure Angels have benefitted greatly from being part of the ATTA global community, and want to give other women the same opportunity,” says Judy Karwacki, Chair of the Scholarship.

This year’s awardee will receive assistance to participate in ATWS2018, which will take place October 15-18 in Tuscany, Italy. The “Abundance” Scholarship package is valued at over $5,000. It includes a one-year ATTA membership, registration at ATWS2018, a $1,500 travel stipend and mentorship from the Angels.

“The opportunity brought me closer to the adventure travel industry and I was able to really appreciate how it works. Upon my return I knew I had to make adjustments to the processes within my start-up operation. My greatest accomplishments at the ATWS in Alaska were getting a new client and cultivating a strong bond with the adventure travel tribe. Blessings to the “Angels” who open doors,” said the 2016 scholarship awardee Noelia Corrales of Colibri Spanish School in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

"Women are the center of the family and the community. By educating and supporting women in the adventure tourism sector of developing countries, we are helping to enrich many lives beyond the scholarship winner. I'm proud to lend a helping hand to my sisters because as women it is just what we do," stated Dana Johnson, President of the Adventure Angels.

“I’m already feeling what a big role this Summit, networking, and the mentorship program will play in my business and development of tourism in Tajikistan,” remarked Miskola Abdulloeva, Director of Orom Travel, selected as the 2017 awardee.

The deadline for application is May 20, 2018.  Interested women business owners can apply through the ATTA’s ATWS2018 Scholarship page at   


Judy Karwacki

Scholarship Chair, Adventure Angels

P: 604-988-1656

E:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




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Ecotourism Australia members win 1 in 4 Australian Tourism Awards.

If Ecotourism Australia were a state, it would have come second in Friday night’s 2017 Qantas Australian Tourism Awards tally in Perth, proving that ecotourism is more than just a niche industry in Australia. Read more

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Adventure Angels Abundance Scholarship 2018

For the third year, the are sponsoring a woman-owned business from an emerging tourism destination to attend the Adventure Travel World Summit. This year it will be held in Tuscany. Please join us in giving a hand up to a deserving woman. Every dollar counts!

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My hotel - the Inn at Laurel Point - had dead people helping manage it

My hotel – the Inn at Laurel Point – had dead people helping manage it. I’d heard Victoria was a great place for the newly wed and nearly dead. But I hadn’t heard read more 

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Microplastics or Veganism?

Plastic inside Plastic - not so fantastic.

The choice is yours. And it is an urgent one too:

The World Health Organisation today announced an urgent review into microplastics in drinking water, following a new study by Orb Media and State University of New York - Fredonia, which found plastic contamination in 242 out of 259 bottles sampled from 11 brands in nine countries, at twice the level of the supposedly inferior, humble tap water. The multinational brands involved, some of whom are keen on privatisation of public water utilities (so that they can sell it back to us at bottled prices?), were, as expected, quick to dispute the accuracy of the results, but what even the most gullible consumers will start realising soon is that microplastics are potentially a threat as serious to human health and the environment as Climate Change, and related to it in various ways. 
The micro-plastic mega-threat is one extra but very serious reason for ecotourists and ecotourism providers to avoid plastic, including plastic water bottles as much as possible. Ecotourists and adventure tourists, in particular, should avoid clothes made from synthetic fibres, as one of the major sources of plastic pollution are microplastics produced each time fancy isothermic and waterproof materials go for washing - up to 1 million fibres for a polyester fleece jacket according to the Life+ Mermaids EU project. Technical solutions are being investigated, such as washing machine filters, milder detergents, fibre additives to delay shedding, and sturdier textiles. But even if microfibres are disposed of properly they will eventually their way to the water, and - gasp - the air, as they are very light. Tap water already contains half the level of plastic fibres according to an earlier study, also by Orb Media.
As microplastics steadily find their way to even the most remote corners of the earth and every link of the food chain, from fish to meat, now is the time for everyone, for the sake of their health, the sake of animals and of the planet, to seriously consider vegan options. It is surprising how few restaurants (and hotels) offer a proper Vegan Menu (as opposed to a token plate) to guests, while their love for plastic/synthetic servings, cups, cutlery, bags, table clothes, menus, brochures and so on continues unabated. But Veganism, like charity, begins at home, and these days it is very easy and affordable for urban dwellers to adopt this civilised diet without any compromises to their taste buds. Anything that can be cooked with milk, butter or cheese, can also be cooked with various types and forms of soya - a tried and tested Chinese healthy food for millennia, now cultivated worldwide, or rice, or almonds. While, you can find anything from ice-cream cones to egg-free mayonnaise, to chorizo-style vegan salami at any decent vegan mini-market. Major retail grocery chains are improving their selection, although here in Athens, they still sell vegan products as "nistissima" - "suitable for fasting" to pious consumers; well, whatever, it is the result that matters!
Each one of us, especially ecotourism proponents, can stop being part of the problem, and lead others by example. And remember, even the most powerful multinational is only as strong as a determined consumer or shareholder minority. In the meantime let us all avoid bottled water, especially water in plastic bottles, or plastic inside the plastic.
Ecotourism or Veganism? The choice is yours. As an ecotourism proponent, it should be an obvious one.
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