A Brief History of Ecotourism Australia

Ecotourism Australia was formed in 1991 as the Ecotourism Association of the Indo Pacific Region. The organisation was renamed the Ecotourism Association of Australia in 1992 and the world's first National Ecotourism Accreditation Program (NEAP) was launched in 1996. In 2002, the International Year of Ecotourism, the organisation was renamed Ecotourism Australia Limited (EA).

EA was established to promote ecotourism throughout Australia and its immediate region by creating partnerships, developing and encouraging quality ecotourism experiences and providing the industry with a clear voice. The organisation's main product development tools were the creation of certification programs that defined ecotourism and the delivery of the Annual Ecotourism Australia Conference (later renamed the Global Eco Conference).

Since the launch of the NEAP, EA has grown and evolved to offer policy commitments and lobbying, industry and academic representation on the EA board, and a website platform to promote operators, membership networking and international travel trade awareness.

EA now delivers four certification programs to the tourism industry:

  • ECO certification (replaced NEAP in 2003)
  • Climate Action (launched in 2008)
  • Respecting Our Culture (transferred from Aboriginal Tourism Australia in 2008)
  • EcoGuide certification (launched in 2000)
  • ECO Destination Certification (launched in 2018)

EA won the Conservation Award at the World Tourism and Travel Council Tourism for Tomorrow Awards in 2008.

In 2011, on the organisation's 20th birthday, EA awarded 56 operators Green Travel Leader status for their commitment to greening the tourism industry by maintaining ECO certification for 10 years or more. Since this time, EA has recognised more operators as Green Travel Leaders and the certification programs have continued to gain national and worldwide recognition through the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.

In 2013/14 the combined annual turnover of all EA certified tour operators exceeded $1billion, demonstrating how ecotourism is no longer a niche but has become the mainstream.

"Over the past twenty years Ecotourism Australia has grown from a small group of environmental tourism enthusiasts, to the world's most respected industry organisation in ecotourism. This has come about through the hard work of a range of people over a long period during which time we have established the benchmarks for the industry globally."

Professor Ross Dowling - Ecotourism Australia Limited Founding Member

"Twenty years ago, when Ecotourism Australia was first established, only some tourism operators recognised that providing quality interpretation and operating sustainably were important for the success of our industry. Ecotourism was first seen as trendy, only for small operators, but the Ecotourism conference in Port Douglas in 1993 identified that the same principles for nature based tourism apply to both small and large operators. Ecotourism Australia grasped the lead in extending this message across the tourism industry, and developed and operated the certification platform that has provided the tools to assist tourism operators achieve their sustainability objectives. This has been an important factor in establishing the quality nature based tourism industry we know today."

Max Shepard, Managing Director, Skyrail Rainforest Cableway