ECOCLUB

ISSN 1108-8931

INTERNATIONAL ECOTOURISM MONTHLY

Year 7 - Issue 91 - May 07

Sponsored by: Hana Maui Botanical Gardens, Maris Hotels Traditional Apartments,
Vythiri Resort, Beyond Touring, Siam Safari Nature Tours, Canyon Travel, Eco Holidays Malta

Global Ecotourism Conference Special
TIES' David Sollitt: "My term will hopefully be seen as one based on increased outreach and collaboration"

The ECOCLUB Interview
Index of Interviews

David SollittDave Sollitt joined The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in February 2007 as the new Executive Director. With his extensive experience in regional, national and international marketing and communications as well as conservation background, Dave brings exciting and innovative solutions and opportunities to TIES and its network. After a 20-year career in international advertising in New York and Chicago, Dave and family moved west.  With his own agency and consultancy in Jackson Hole, WY, Dave worked with such clients as Grand Teton Lodge Company, Vail Resorts, Rockefeller Holdings, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming State Tourism, Marriott, and, most recently, TIES-member Papoose Creek Lodge in Cameron, MT. Dave also consulted for a variety of conservation organizations including Trout Unlimited, Deschutes River Conservancy, Yellowstone to Yukon and others. He holds a BS in Environmental Science from Arizona State University and a Masters in Communications from Northwestern University. He has enjoyed travelling to every continent except Antarctica and sailing extensively around the world.

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) (Web: www.ecotourism.org) is a global network of industry practitioners, institutions and individuals helping to integrate environmental and socially responsible principles into practice, while promoting responsible travel that unites conservation and communities.

TIES promotes responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people by creating an international network of individuals, institutions and the tourism industry, educating tourists and tourism professionals and influencing the tourism industry, public institutions and donors to integrate the principles of ecotourism into their operations and policies.

TIES has an extensive Training and Education program that provides consulting Services, international training programs, distance learning courses, advocacy campaigns, UCFC program, conferences, public forums and publications.

(The Interview follows:)


ECOCLUB: What made you assume the big ecotourism helm of The International Ecotourism Society? Did you bring with you a "100-day" plan for changes, or are you rather the consensus-seeking type?

David Sollitt: I’ve always been passionate about conservation. My degree was in Environmental Science and at one time, I was set on being an environmental lawyer to save the planet. That was until I concluded communications was both my forte and an effective means of preserving our natural world. I worked in the private sector most  of my career, and I feel strongly that conservation programs that integrate public and private partnerships and constituencies are the best way to ensure preservation of the world’s last best places. Ecotourism provides perhaps the best model to demonstrate that wild places and biodiversity have both tangible and intangible value.

Any thoughts for a 100 day plan were pretty much killed when I realised how much there was to do in my first 100 days, including Oslo, a major fundraiser, and board meeting. But there are plans in the works to dramatically improve our service to our members and our ability to serve the Ecotourism community. I am pleased to say my 100th day at TIES will be spent in Oslo, surrounded by the best and the brightest in global Ecotourism at the Global Ecotourism Conference, 2007.

ECOCLUB: Do you view Ecotourism, as a tourism movement, or as a tourism niche?

David Sollitt: Niches that reflect real, compelling human needs and values become movements. It’s only a matter of size and critical mass. Ecotourism is one example of a niche that has become a movement

ECOCLUB: Is Ecotourism certification a useful and feasible exercise?

David Sollitt: Yes. For all the growth that ecotourism has enjoyed, it is still a young industry, encompassing both experiential and operational guidelines to legitimately deliver what we call Ecotourism. In a world where few people have the time and resources to fully research their travel choices, certification programs that are verifiable and measurable provide a very real service to both the traveller and the Ecotourism operators that indeed operate sustainably and responsibly.

ECOCLUB: Should Ecotourists care about human rights at a destination, or about not upsetting the local status-quo, leaving only footprints?

David Sollitt: Ecotourism reminds us that we share this planet with a variety of peoples, communities as well as other life forms. People, especially Ecotourists, should care about human rights everywhere.

ECOCLUB: Some argue that most tourists who opt for an eco-holiday do not really feel accountable to the poor, the disenfranchised, or to the environment, during their 'hard-earned' holidays. They mainly choose an eco holiday by accident, on the grounds of price & novelty. Do you agree?

David Sollitt: I don’t think people choose an eco-holiday by accident. I think people plan their vacations based on a desired set of experiences. Most of those who wish to experience nature, wildlife and wild places want to know that their experiences aren’t contributing to the destruction or degradation of those places and are ideally helping to preserve them.

I also believe that to be fully enriching, travel to faraway places encompasses interaction with the cultures and peoples that help define those places.  To the extent that those cultures and peoples are poor or disenfranchised, it will have an impact on the experience of that place.

That said, I think many discover that true ecotourism practice can dramatically enhance that experience, but that discovery comes largely through the experience itself.  Prior to going to TIES, I worked at Papoose Creek Lodge, an ecolodge in Cameron, MT. Many guests came to the lodge knowing we called it an ecolodge, but not truly knowing what that meant. In the course of their stay, they learned and experienced the things that the Lodge does to protect wildlife, the magnificent Madison Valley and the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and they told us repeatedly that knowledge dramatically enhanced their stay and made it a truly special experience. In the same way, knowing that your travel choice helps the people and the communities that made your vacation a unique and rewarding experience can only be an enhancement. Whether that results in a sense of accountability is hard to say, but Ecotourism has a unique capacity to transform guests into evangelists for the places they visit and the communities they interact with and we need to do a better job creating the vehicles to help them along the way.

ECOCLUB: Should Ecotourism become more mainstream, or should the mainstream become more Ecotourist? Or neither perhaps?

David Sollitt: If becoming more “mainstream” means that Ecotourism practice would retreat from the principles of sustainability, preservation and the principles that we in the community hold dear, absolutely not. If it means that the marketing of true Ecotourism practice convinces a broader range of tourists that the experience of true Ecotourism is a richly rewarding experience, then absolutely.

The mainstream is becoming more Ecotourist. We are holding our North American Ecotourism Conference in Madison, Wisconsin in September. That State became the first in the US to promote, on a state-wide basis, the adoption of sustainable practices across their entire tourism industry. That can only be a good thing. We all have to be concerned with the state of our planet, so sustainable practices in all industries will have to play a role. Those in the Ecotourism community can be proud of the influence they have had in encouraging the mainstream tourism industry to adopt sound, sustainable practices.

ECOCLUB: Does carbon-offsetting by tourists have an effective role to play in combating climate-change, or is it mostly a gimmick by unregulated & unaccountable offsetting businesses?

David Sollitt: To solve the climate change problem, we will all have to change the way we think, work and act. Carbon offsetting does a lot of positive things. It raises consciousness that individual choices matter. It provides a funding for a lot of very valuable sustainable energy development programs. It can provide an economic engine for reforestation and, eventually, preservation of old growth forests. The impact is relatively small presently, but that’s because the number of people participating is relatively small. But it’s growing dramatically and it’s drawing increasingly larger participants.

Remember recycling 30 years ago? Remember when that was the province of a small “fringe?” Today, it touches everyone. Reducing our carbon footprint will eventually touch everyone.

ECOCLUB: Do you see TIES as actively initiating or consulting for ecotourism projects, or should it rather keep its distances as an impartial observer, monitoring fair-play?

David Sollitt: I’m a marketer by training and experience. As the oldest and largest organisation serving the Ecotourism community, it is important that we actively promote Ecotourism, our members, and the benefits of Ecotourism. That argues against a passive, arms length engagement.

For example, according to our web stats, we get an average of a million hits on our web site a month with a number of unduplicated visits that many private sector sites would envy. But our site isn’t very good. Our site can and will become a much more active presence in the Ecotourism community.

With regards to specific projects, we will continue to stress training and education as a critical driver in the advancement of Ecotourism. There is an enormous wealth of knowledge and expertise in Ecotourism in our Staff, Board and membership. I bring a different set of skills and expertise that can enhance that knowledge and its dissemination and application.

ECOCLUB: If you were to give one promise to the world of Ecotourism, about something that would be achieved during your tenure at the helm of TIES, what would that be?

David Sollitt: I think we became somewhat insular as an organisation in the past few years. This is a community and an industry a term I use somewhat loosely that is remarkably vibrant and passionate. My term will hopefully be seen as one based on increased outreach and collaboration and a rededication to the membership that is our greatest strength.

ECOCLUB: Finally what are the aims of the Global Ecotourism Conference, beyond the obvious goal of networking? Will there be another conference?

David Sollitt: The Global Ecotourism Conference 2007 is a remarkable opportunity for the international Ecotourism community to take stock of where we are and what we’ve both accomplished and learned in the five years since the United Nations' International Year of Ecotourism. The breadth and depth of our speakers and presenters are remarkable. The geographic dispersion of our conference participants is impressive, and we’re proud that conference participants integrate both on the ground operators and staff as well as ministers and other dignitaries. We and our partners have worked very hard to put together a conference agenda that meets the needs of Ecotourism professionals and practitioners from around the world to learn from each other’s experience, to enhance the capacity to plan and manage Ecotourism operations in a more sustainable manner, and to strengthen the collective voice of the Ecotourism community.

A number of leading experts from various parts of the world will address critical issues, challenges and opportunities in the field of Ecotourism through workshops and plenary sessions. The workshops are crafted around the main themes of local sustainable development, nature conservation, communication and branding, and current trends. These workshops serve as forum to assess the achievements and challenges in the field of Ecotourism since the IYE, examine critical issues in Ecotourism today, discuss the way forward for the Ecotourism community, and develop action plans to reinforce and expand the process of fostering joint policies and approaches on key issues including biodiversity conservation, poverty alleviation, and tourism industry reforms.

Yes, there will be another conference. We believe it is critical that the international Ecotourism community convenes every few years to assess our accomplishments and challenges. TIES, in partnership with a national or regional Ecotourism association, will be organising a Global Ecotourism Conference at least every five years starting in 2007, in the co-organizer’s country.

ECOCLUB: Thank you very much

Find the complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here
 

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