Planning is an essential ingredient in any recipe for success. Organising an ecotour is no different in this respect and will ensure that an ecotour operation will run smoothly, and that customers will not only return, but will also spread goodwill by word of mouth. The opposite also applies; poor planning will lead to unforeseen problems, disenchanted customers and may even have safety and legal ramifications.
So what sort of things need to be planned? Obviously, not all factors can be accounted for before they happen but, with careful planning and an understanding of the possible eventualities, most problems will be able to be dealt with and the operator will be in a state of readiness to deal with any unforeseen developments.
Planning an ecotour will involve selection of a destination, transportation, accommodation, catering, equipment, what your tour will do, and how it will behave in a wilderness area.
This is an important factor that will be the basis of much of your planning. Think about where to go, what to see and what to do. You will need to look at factors such as:
- Weather - not just what is forecast or even seasonal but any possible developments which may cause delay or danger to the tour. Remember weather is one of the most unpredictable elements of your planning, so you should always be prepared to compensate for it. Your planning will involve gaining an understanding of the weather, through weather maps, historical weather information and local knowledge (which might include talking to local farmers or indigenous people).
- Access - How will you get to where you want to go? Are you legally allowed to go to certain places? Remember that some areas may be deemed off limits due to sensitivity; they may be sacred sites, be undergoing rehabilitation or contain threatened or threatening local flora and fauna.
- Local flora and fauna - It probably should go without saying that anyone thinking of conducting an ecotour should have a practical working knowledge of all possible animals and plants that might be encountered while in an area, as well as which are openly, or passively dangerous. Once these have been identified by the operator, an awareness of their prominence at the destination should be ascertained. Perhaps some form of caution will be necessary before the tour departs. How should these organisms be dealt with when encountered? What treatments/first aid, if any, should be applied if problems occur.
- Laws - The legal situation within a selected destination will determine what activities will be allowable. Most wilderness areas will come under the jurisdiction of a number of authorities and/or government departments. The regulations are put in place for specific reasons, and will need to be followed by the ecotour organisers, who could very well be liable for prosecution if these regulations are not complied with by not only themselves, but also the participants in any ecotours under their control.
Some of the Guidelines for eco tourists
- Be culturally sensitive and respect local customs.
- Allow enough time in each place to appreciate it.
- Be careful not to introduce exotic plants or animals.
- Stay on the track (trail).
- Leave an area cleaner than when you found it.
- Don't exploit an area when food gathering.
- Don't disturb wildlife or wildlife habitats.
- Familiarize yourself with local regulations.
- Don't use soap or detergents in natural water bodies.
- When traveling, spend money on local enterprises.
- Consider the implications of buying plant and animal products. Find out if they're rare or endangered, taken from the wild, and if the trade is approved of by local authorities.
- Don't encourage illegal trade by buying products made from endangered species.
First aid is one of those things that, if you have all the gear, knowledge and training, you probably won't need to use it. Maybe this is because groups that adequately prepare themselves are also relatively safety-conscious and don't get into trouble in the first place. The fact that you have the responsibility for the safety of the group travelling with you should influence everything you do.
Staff should take a first aid course including CPR - it is pointless to have a well stocked medical kit if you don't know how to use it. There are many excellent first aid courses available through St. John's Ambulance and other organisations. The dilemma is that most first aid courses assume that the ambulance is 10 minutes away and that the victim can swiftly be transported to a hospital. Try to find a wilderness course if you can. Better courses use extensive simulations and role playing components to teach the participants how to deal with real- life situations.
There are many types of transportation that can be used by the ecotour operator. From the very simple such as walking or hiking, to the more technically involved flying or boating over or through a particular area. Not all are relevant, and this will be determined by what is required and what is practical. Another point that will need to be considered is the comfort of the people being transported, and their ability to cope with a particular mode of transport. For instance, hiking can be arduous and tiring and requires a certain level of fitness to participate.
Legal and ecological considerations will apply, and common sense on the behalf of the operator is also important. The damage that can occur due to poor or uneducated use of a certain mode of transport (four wheel drives are a good example) could result in an unacceptable impact on an area. This in turn leads to government regulation to stop this sort of deterioration.
Eco tours that are only short trips such as a half day or close to regional centres will require less forward planning (maybe none at all in some cases), but anything that requires overnight or longer attendance will have to look at shelter or accommodation for the people taking the tour. This needs to be well organised when conducting an ecotour. Equipment should be carried that will enable the establishment of a makeshift camp even if other arrangements have been planned. A delay due to whatever reason could mean that an emergency camp needs to be set up in a hurry.
Accommodation facilities for the ecotourism type activities are varied depending on the type of activity or environment that is being visited. Facilities can range from:
- Indigenous structures – mud and grass huts, tree-houses, igloos, yurts etc.
- Historical buildings- representative of the area visited.
- Modern structures- fibre glass, rigid tents, concrete or inflatable buildings.
- Portable structures- Low impact type accommodation that is not permanent i.e. tents, vehicles etc.
Learn More About Ecotourism -click here