Beating the Drum of Ecotourism

Portland Taiko drum troupe

In the world of sustainable businesses, there’s a “triple bottom line” that addresses social and environmental as well as economic concerns.

That’s a recurring theme this week in Portland, where I am attending the 20th annual Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference presented by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES).  A performance by the Portland Taiko drum troupe greeted several hundred attendees from two dozen countries, gathering at the Hilton hotel to discuss biodiversity, indigenous tourism, green living, energy sustainability and voluntourism.

“Responsible growth and management of tourism requires effective collaboration between the public and private sector, and local communities,” said TIES chair Kelly Bricker of the University of Utah. “We’re bringing together a wide range of stakeholders, including tourism businesses, government, United Nations agencies, research and academic institutions, social and environmental organizations. Our goal is to stimulate and reward improved sustainability in tourism, and to meet consumer and market demand for more sustainable options when people travel.”

A roster of luminary speakers includes Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Portland Mayor Sam Adams and Travel Oregon executive Todd Davidson – but it’s people like Oliver Hillel, a Brazilian who heads the U.N.’s Convention of Biological Diversity; Wallace Nichols, the co-founder of SEE Turtles; and Jenny Gray, CEO of Zoos Victoria in Australia; have attracted more attention.

“Human activities are creating the greatest wave of extinction since dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago,” Hillel warned. “Yet tourism can make an immediate difference.

“Travel is the best way to learn about (biodiversity). When you take someone to see a rainforest or a coral reef for the first time, there is something almost religious about the experience. The tourism industry can teach about the importance of preserving nature, even as it is helping indigenous communities to make a living.”

Oceanographer Nichols pointed to the Gulf of Mexico as symbolic “of what’s going on all across our ocean planet. We put too much in, we take too much out, and we’ve destroyed the edge of the ocean.” He called on the tourism industry to be vigilant against pollution, especially by petrochemical products such as plastic; to speak out against trawling, a style of fishing that he said scours the ocean floor and destroys habitat; and to support the creation of rare coastline wildernesses.

Gray discussed her zoo organization’s “Wipe for Wildlife” campaign, featuring a superhero named “Crack Man” to encourage Australians to buy and use only recycled toilet paper. “In Australia alone, 6 million trees are flushed down the toilet each year,” she said. “Yet only 5 percent of Aussies buy recycled toilet paper. It costs the same as non-recycled paper, and it’s just as soft.”

And that, Gray said, is the inside poop.

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