Posted by Ingrid Huitema, Erica Johnson on 10 December 2020 | Comments

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2020 has proven a critical time for the tourism industry. With the massive disruption through the bushfires of 2019 followed by the universally devastating impact of COVID-19, there has never been a more important time to come together, draw on the collective strengths to re-assess, reflect and recover.

Ecotourism Australia’s Global Eco Asia-Pacific Tourism Conference, was held 1-3 December 2020 in Margaret River, Western Australia, one of Ecotourism Australia’s sixteen aspiring ECO Destinations. 

Now in its 28th year, the conference drew on the theme “Revolution, Driving Evolution” and opened up the opportunity to take stock, review and reassess the industry and its path forward, giving voice to a diversity of players who offer fresh and innovative industry perspectives. 

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Left to right: Rod Hillman (Chief Executive EA), Ian Earl (Shire President Augusta Margaret River Shire), Innes Larkin (Deputy Chair EA)

Due to travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19, Global Eco offered for the first time both live and virtual attendance options. Additionally, a total of five applicant ECO Destinations across the country played host to the live streamed program as a mini conference ‘satellite node’ for their region.

Over three days, more than 220 delegates representing all states of Australia and five different countries heard from leaders and innovators in ecotourism academia, industry and governance.


Photo: guide Josh Walker, a proud Nunagal man, shared his stories and deep connection to Quandamooka Country during the Minjerribah Aboriginal Culture Walk

Day 1 at Global Eco 2020 kicked off with delegates and attendees tuning in to the HEART, Margaret River from right across the country. Bundaberg, QLD’s satellite node hosted a “Launch into Ecotourism” breakfast as a networking opportunity for their attendees.

Delegates were inspired by Craig Wickham (Exceptional Kangaroo Island) and the audience took stock on 'Surviving the Impacts of Natural Disasters and Pandemics' with Amy Carter-James and Lee Miezis (Bushfire Recovery Victoria) and Sonia Beckwith (Live Ningaloo). Later in the day, insights were gained from the CEO Forum featuring Peter Sharp (Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, WA), Lisa Shreeve (Busselton Jetty), Alexandra Burt (The Landsmith Collection) and Phillipa Harrison (Tourism Australia).

Day 2 of the conference saw continued activity in the satellite nodes on the Central Coast (NSW), Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island, QLD), Bundaberg (QLD) and Townsville (QLD). Coffs Coast joined in, streaming Day 2 from the C.ex Coffs International Stadium.

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Photo: Delegates at the Coffs Coast satellite node, C.ex Coffs Harbour Intl. Stadium

The morning kicked off with two morning parallel plenary sessions: ‘Ecotourism Post COVID-19’ and ‘Best Practices in WA Ecotourism.

After lunch came the ‘Inspire’ keynote, delivered by Gary Muir (WOW Wilderness Ecocruises). Gary Muir was recognised as an Eco-guide in 1998 when the Global Eco Conference was last held in Margaret River. Now, 22 years later, he has built an incredible career, having delivered his special brand of environmental interpretation to thousands of people as an ecotourism operator and educator.

Innes Larkin (Mt Barney Lodge), Rod Quartermain (Tina Smitherman Consultants) and Dr Erika Jacobson (Edgewalkers) spoke in the ‘Forum of Revolutionary Ideas’.

The last session of the day focussed on ‘New Alliances, New Paths’ and featured Professor Ross Dowling AM (Edith Cowan University) Professor Brent Ritchie (The University of Queensland) and Louise Cashmore (Origins Market).

To top it off, conference delegates in Western Australia enjoyed a beautiful dinner at Voyager Estate in the Margaret River region, and attendees of the Coffs Coast satellite node finished the day with industry networking drinks.

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Photo: Delegates enjoying dinner at Voyager Estate

Day 3 began with two morning parallel plenary streams ‘Evolving Ecotourism and ECO Destinations’ and ‘Best Practices in WA Ecotourism. Additionally, the attendees of the Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island, QLD) satellite node experienced an insightful cultural tour of Goompi (Dunwich).

The afternoon session focussed on Indigenous Ecotourism and featured Cameron Costello (Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation), Rosie Sandover and Rebecca Sampi (Kingfisher Tours); and Robert Taylor (WAITOC).

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Left to right: Rosie Sandover and Rebecca Sampi (Kingfisher Tours)

Anna Pollock presented virtually from the United Kingdom providing the third and final of our ‘Inspire’ keynotes. Anna is known around the world for her 40+ years’ work in sustainable tourism and her Conscious Travel movement. At Global Eco, she spoke about regenerative tourism.

Alexandra Burt (The Landsmith Collection) and Dermot O'Gorman (WWF-Australia) discussed the topic of ‘Evolving Ecotourism’ in the last keynote session before the conference close.

To view the presentations given at this years’ Global Eco Conference, click here.

Ecotourism Australia gratefully acknowledges the contributions from Major Host Sponsors; Tourism Western Australia and the Government of Western Australia, Host Sponsors; Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association, Shire of Augusta Margaret River, South West Development Commission, Destination Partners Business Events Perth and Margaret River HEART.

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