Kelly S. Bricker completed her Ph.D. research with The Pennsylvania
State University in 1998, where she specialized in sustainable tourism
development. She has special research interest in sustainable tourism,
natural resource management, outdoor recreation, and community and
heritage tourism development, ecotourism, sense of place and incentive
travel programs. Dr. Bricker has worked all over the world, employed as
guide, tourism manager, wilderness instructor, scuba and sailing
instructor, professor, and researcher. With her husband Nathan, she
started an ecotourism company called Rivers Fiji in the rural highlands of
Fiji, which is now protected Fiji’s first RAMSAR Wetland of Importance.
She has taught at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, West
Virginia University, Sacramento State University and Cal Poly Universities
in California. She is a part-time Senior Scientist in recreation with
Devine Tarbell & Associates, an environmental management company focused
on alternative energy resources. She continues to conduct research on the
social, cultural, and environmental impacts of tourism development in Fiji
and the US. Kelly serves as Associate Professor at the University of Utah
in the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism.
has been a Board Member of
Ecotourism Society (TIES) since 2000, and currently serves as
Chair and Interim Executive Director. Founded in 1990 in Vermont and now based
in Washington DC, TIES is the oldest international ecotourism organisation with
members in over 90 countries. As a non-profit, non-governmental and
multi-stakeholder association, TIES provides guidelines and standards,
training, technical assistance, research and publications to foster sound
ecotourism development and to make tourism a viable tool for conservation,
poverty alleviation, protection of culture and bio-diversity, sustainable
development and educational, as well as enjoyable. In May 2007 TIES organised
with great success the Global Ecotourism Conference in Oslo, Norway.
(The Interview follows:)
How and when did you discover Ecotourism as a philosophy and practice?
Bricker: My husband and I travelled extensively for an adventure travel
company back in the late 80’s and up through 1994. During this time, we would
see areas once pristine and natural deteriorate – in a relatively short period
of time. About the time that TIES started, I realized there are alternatives
ways to develop and operate tourism products—and as a result, decided to
dedicate my PHD focus on ecotourism and sustainable approaches to tourism
development. I also attended one of the first board meetings TIES held in the
early 1990’s and was thrilled that there was an organization addressing these
Five issues that have sparked debate in ecotourism circles in recent
years, are certification (feasible?), carbon-offsetting (necessary?), hunting
(acceptable?), luxury (compatible?) and caring for human rights vs. leaving no
footprints - not disturbing the status quo. Where do you personally stand on
Bricker: Certification-with the growing number of successful certification
programs around the globe in a range of sectors (i.e., coffee, lumber, home
products, and tourism), yes, I believe it is feasible. I am continually
impressed with those programs that have led the way, and continuously improve
offsetting - this is but one strategy to work to achieve a change in the
current status of our world. I think we simply have to remember to utilize this
as part of developing a portfolio of actions, including behavioural change on
all our part! We also have to consider where and what type of offsetting is
occurring. Like many strategies we are reviewing to address the climate change
issues, it is a start, an action, and something to consider in the mix.
Hunting is an activity that is laden with considerations from a range of
perspectives. Whether I believe it is "acceptable" (your term) or not, is not
relevant. What I believe is relevant is that we must address sustainable
practices in everything we do, not just ecotourism. I believe principles that
support ecotourism are and will continue to shape how we conduct ourselves on
Luxury - I think
luxury in ecotourism certainly has a place. As with all product offerings,
ecotourism businesses do well to offer a range of opportunities to engage in
ecotourism at all market levels—luxury being no exception as long as we adopt
all principles supporting ecotourism.
Human rights? -
as part of our responsibility to being good citizens on this planet, we must
engage in practices that embrace the rights of every human. We must promote
best practices in all of our work. It is my belief that we embrace and respect
all living things—humans are not separate from the rest of the ecosystem and
must be treated fairly and with dignity and respect. I am not sure why this
would be debated—it seems like a natural process and the way we should be doing
business and running governments.
There are many definitions for Ecotourism, but rather fewer for
Ecotourists. Who is entitled to be called an Ecotourist? All nature tourists,
or tourists (nature or urban) who follow certain guidelines / rules both in
their travels and everyday life?
Bricker: I think what we promote at TIES and as individuals is simple,
Ecotourists are those people who support nature-based tourism products and
services that follow the principles to which the concept is aligned—including,
contribute to conservation biodiversity, respect and support the well-being of
local people, support local economies, involve nature and culture
interpretation of the places visited, and involve ecologically sustainable
practices. We hope that over time, people will learn how to move what they see
in practice into their own lives, and will assimilate best practices into their
every day life, and educate those around them.
TIES in recent years has been increasingly organising major events with
great success. The usual criticism against any event in Tourism or other
sector, particularly from those who have not been invited...are that they are
not representative, are not green, and that little takes place apart from
networking and rubber-stamping existing decisions. How is TIES addressing these
concerns for its own ecotourism events, and what fundamental principles should
any Ecotourism Event meet to do justice to its title?
Bricker: All public events TIES organizes, including conferences,
workshops, forums, and fund raisers are open to all. As you can see in our
organizational mission statement, we have an obligation "to promote 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 travel
professionals; and influencing the tourism industry and governments to
integrate the principles of ecotourism into their operations and policies." Our
events serve not only to disseminate up-to-date information about ecotourism
and provide networking opportunities, but also to effectively engage various
stakeholders in discussions around critical issues in ecotourism and
With respect to
greening our events, since our first North American Conference in Bar Harbor,
we have implemented responsible strategies to help minimize our impact. For
instance, for all our past events, we have partnered with appropriate carbon
offsetting programs to both offset the carbon emissions produced by the events,
and to educate the participants about reducing their carbon footprint.
are some examples of the steps we have taken to green our events: - Select
event venues that are eco-certified and/or have strong environmental profiles.
- Utilize organic and locally produced food and drinks wherever possible. -
Utilize recycled or reusable materials (e.g. conference bags, badges, paper)
wherever possible. - Utilize public transportation whenever possible and
encourage participants to use public transportation or car pool.
In many associations there is a conundrum: what criteria if any Members
must satisfy to be accepted, and through which democratic process, Members can
change these criteria. What is the current TIES approach, and your view on this
Bricker: At present, TIES asks all members to support and implement the
following Code of Conduct:
"We agree that
ecotourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the
environment and improves the well-being of local people, and further agree that
we will undertake to adhere to the principles of ecotourism as outlined below:
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect. - Provide positive
experiences for both visitors and hosts. - Provide direct financial benefits
for conservation. - Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local
people. - Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and
We welcome all
members that believe their practices are in line with these principles, and
hope that we can reach beyond simply "preaching to the choir". We cannot ensure
this 100%, but we also hope that by supporting TIES and being active members of
TIES' network, they are learning new and better ways to instil best practices,
support conservation, and increase the benefits to local communities.
We also believe
best practices will change as we all change over time along with changes in our
understanding of sustainability, changes in technology, changes in better and
more efficient processes to achieve the sustainability goals we set for
ourselves each day. We believe, and others have shown, that the bar set today
will be different in the future—and hopefully this will be a very good thing.
What is your own view and experience with direct democracy in
decision-making? Would it be practical for TIES to hold online Member votes on
key issues, or is representative democracy (board decides) the way forward?
Bricker: As a membership organization, we are here to provide a service to
our members. We listen and make changes in what we do for our members, how we
do things, based on feedback and on-going dialogue with those who support us.
The Board is primarily there to ensure we stay on track with our mission,
financial oversight, and helping TIES move forward in all its programs and
membership supported activities—finding resources and bringing global awareness
to issues we all face in ecotourism and sustainable development practices and
members to contact us on issues they are finding important in their daily
lives—we have such a range of members, from NGOs, government, private business,
corporations, that often we help bring issues people experience to the
forefront. We seek to help facilitate debates, problem solving, and solutions
to those ideas brought forward, and to provide information important to all,
and we will continue to do so through advocacy campaigns (i.e., global climate
change), conferences, forums, educational certificates—so people can
participate in a wide range of dialogue, discussion, and critical thinking on
Should there be an increased role for the growing number of national
ecotourism societies - assumed that they do democratically represent a nation
rather than private interests - in the framework of TIES?
Bricker: TIES acknowledges that national and regional ecotourism
associations play a critical role in providing the vital links between
governments, NGOs, businesses and citizens, and thus effectively promoting
ecotourism and sustainable travel worldwide. We look forward to increased
partnerships with associations from around the world. We have been active in
working with a number of associations and support their efforts through
speaking engagements, workshops, and marketing their efforts on our web site
and through other channels within their region. We believe, and many of our
partners have agreed, that TIES can serve as an umbrella organization to bring
together ideas from around the globe, link associations to share challenges,
solutions, and knowledge. It is a very exciting time in this way.
A few years ago, TIES felt the need to pass regulations so as to avoid
conflicts of interest with its own Members when bidding for consultancy
projects. What prompted this, and what is your personal assessment of the level
of transparency for major ecotourism-related consultancy projects.
Bricker: Through our membership, people contact us with projects they need
assistance on—we in turn assist our members by posting their information and
expertise in various ways. We simply did not have anything in place to explain
our process and thus found it necessary to promote this as a genuine benefit of
being a member of TIES. We are a natural for bringing folks together to help
each other with projects.
From your data and personal experience, is Ecotourism becoming more or
less popular as an academic discipline among students and Universities in the
United States? Are young Ecotourism graduates in demand, and from what sort of
Bricker: Thanks for raising this question. A few years ago, I noticed that
many of my academic colleagues were seeing an increased interest by their
students in Ecotourism, and, as a tourism operator as well, I know many of us
were always searching for good students interested in Ecotourism—but there
appeared to be a disconnect in bridging the two worlds. Together with a
consortium of partner universities, TIES has established the TIES University
Consortium Field Certificate (UCFC) program, which we believe is helping to
address this issue.
The goal of the
UCFC is to work collaboratively with university programs/departments, to
administer an ecotourism certificate of study applicable to a range of academic
disciplines and degree programs and professionals who desire a holistic
understanding of ecotourism and sustainable tourism development. The UCFC
assists individual university and extension programs in the provision of a
concentration of study in ecotourism, and in connecting these students with the
sustainable tourism industry. The certificate is designed to enable students
and participants to undergo a focused concentration within their major or
professional position on international issues in ecotourism and sustainable
tourism development and acquire a unique pedagogical opportunity in
experiential, service, and theoretical learning.
incorporates the following into a comprehensive study plan: a) at least one
international course provided through a university consortium member; b)
on-campus course work; c) engagement in at least one internationally focused
seminar through TIES (e.g., web-based or onsite, Eco-certification, Community
Development, Sustainable Development Law); and, d) an internship focused on
some aspect of ecotourism/sustainable tourism development consisting of 400
hours. The blend of unique learning opportunities and academic and professional
disciplines will provide students with holistic experiences, international
perspectives, and service learning encounters in ecotourism.
We have seen
growing interest from both universities and students in this innovative
program, and we hope to connect more students and professionals through the
program to meet the growing interest and needs.
Do you agree that sometimes Ecotourism gets bad press, unfair reviews from
uninformed journalists, and over-pedantic scholars who tend to blame all the
evils of Tourism on a concept and a movement that actually wants to improve
Tourism? And if so, what measures should TIES and its Members take?
Bricker: I think we live in a society of free thinkers and critics, and as
such will always be open to criticism in one form or another. I believe we have
to pay some attention to this critique, as it challenges us to do a better job
in communication, clarifying principles, and creating a place for open
dialogue. We must continue to move forward and not get too hung up on what
people criticize. We need to continue to strive for excellence in our products,
correct mistakes of the past, and look forward to doing things better in the
future. I think critics keep us on our toes and help us understand the range of
perspectives out there. It is important for us to simply listen, learn, and as
corny as it may sound, continue the good fight the best we can with the
resources we have.
What will be the priorities of your tenure as Executive Director of TIES
in terms of the role and organisation of TIES? And what mark do you want to
leave on Ecotourism worldwide?
Bricker: My priorities are focused on building our network of ecotourism
associations; strengthening our programs such as UCFC; finding new and exciting
ways to serve our membership in the best way possible; further developing our
Board of Directors representative of ecotourism worldwide; and enabling our
dedicated and dynamic staff to the fullest extent, so that they can best serve
our membership and ecotourism; and finding ways to increase the economic,
social, and environmental sustainability of our organization as a whole.
I think we all
hope that when we leave, some place, community, or person, is a little bit
better off because of efforts we achieved together and ideas we implemented to
make things work in a sustainable way. For TIES, I desire a future where our
role changes due to the world-wide adoption of ecotourism and sustainable
tourism principles into practice. We will continue to face global challenges
due to political unrest, increasing populations, and challenges to biodiversity
conservation - Ecotourism has proven its place in the world, that if done well
and with principles in place, it is one of many solutions to biodiversity
conservation and wise use of resources around the globe.
Finally, it is election year in the United States, the world's major
power, and there is a prospect that the new administration will be more
enthusiastic about environmental issues. It is customary that major
environmental NGOs question and rate candidates before elections. Should TIES
perhaps also ask candidates where they stand vis a vis Ecotourism? Or do you
believe that TIES should stay away from politics altogether?
Bricker: TIES is a relatively small NGO with a very clear and direct focus
on ecotourism and sustainable strategies. I am not sure it is necessarily our
role to evaluate or rate the presidential candidates — I would rather see us
focus on our Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference in Vancouver, B.C.
October 27-29, and many other exciting initiatives we are engaged in! We have a
lot work to do to make these the best yet—so it would be my vote to focus our
efforts on building the ecotourism community, with of course all candidates
invited to participate!
Thank you very much!
complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here