East Gippsland has achieved a significant milestone as it becomes the state's first certified ECO Destination, receiving the coveted recognition from Ecotourism Australia. This prestigious certification celebrates the region's commitment to sustainable practices and the provision of exceptional nature-based tourism experiences.
The announcement took centre stage at the highly anticipated Inspire East Gippsland Tourism Summit, which drew speakers including Peter Gash OAM from Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort; Rob Pennicott from Pennicott Wilderness Journeys; Leigh Sorensen from Tourism Australia; Felicia Mariani, CEO of Victoria Tourism Industry Council; Terry Robinson, CEO of Destination Gippsland; Kristy Malapa, Industry Development Manager at Tourism Australia; and Ecotourism Australia CEO, Elissa Keenan.
Oneof the summit's highlights was an overview of Ecotourism Australia's Strive 4Sustainability scorecard, as highlighted by Ms. Keenan - a game-changing pre-certification tool that empowers businesses to embark on their sustainable tourism journey, that may lead to ECO or Sustainable Tourism Certification.
Nestled within the lands of Gunaikurnai, Bidawel and Monero, East Gippsland has long been a draw for nature enthusiasts. The region boasts a treasure trove of world-renowned natural wonders, including the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve of Croajingolong National Park, the culturally significant Buchan Caves, the Alpine High Country, the expansive Gippsland Lakes, and the picturesque Ninety Mile Beach, offering endless stretches of golden sand.
East Gippsland's achievement of Ecotourism-level certification follows a meticulous independent assessment of 91 rigorous criteria. This certification recognises the region as a nature-based tourism destination committed to the principles of ecotourism, encompassing cultural and natural interpretation and education for visitors, as well as the active involvement of local businesses in sustainable practices.
By securing this significant certification, East Gippsland joins the ranks of six other Australian regions recognised for their commitment to sustainable tourism: Coffs Coast, Central Coast, and the Blue Mountains in New South Wales; Bundaberg and Port Douglas Daintree in Queensland; and Margaret River in Western Australia.
East Gippsland's pioneering role in this significant certification process was made possible through the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia (WWF).The region was the first of 10 nationwide to participate in the program, benefitting from the Australian Wildlife & Nature Recovery Fund established by WWF-Australia in response to the devastating 2019/20 bushfires. This support sustained the region throughout the initial two years of the program.
Notably, East Gippsland already boasts a selection of ECO certified businesses that uphold the highest standards of sustainable tourism. Among them are Gippsland High Country Tours in Bruthen; Lakes Beachfront Holiday Park in Lake Tyers; and Skipper Pete in Lakes Entrance with ECO Guide accreditation. A further nine local businesses are going through their ECO Certification application process currently and look forward to announcing their certification soon.
East Gippsland Shire Council spearheaded the certification process, garnering support from esteemed stakeholders such as the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC), Victoria's Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA), Parks Victoria, Destination Gippsland, local businesses and community groups.
Quote from Mayor Mark Reeves, East Gippsland Shire Council:
"Our region has achieved a monumental success with ECO Destination Certification placing u among the select few regions in the country."
"This certification not only highlights our community's proactive approach to sustainability but also enables us to showcase our unwavering commitment to environmental care. It brings economic benefits and provides comprehensive guidelines for Council, communities, and businesses to uphold and enhance sustainable practices."
Quote from Elissa Keenan, CEO of Ecotourism Australia:
“We are delighted to see the East Gippsland region recognised as a global leader in sustainability by achieving ECO certification. Being the first in Victoria to achieve this standard is a milestone achievement and we are proud to have supported this region in partnership with WWF-Australia through a bushfire recovery fund, to help them build back better.
“This certification of East Gippsland ensures sustainable tourism remains part of the story of the region, and inspires businesses and communities alike to maintain good practices and implement sustainable tourism standards.”
Quote from Darren Grover, Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes at WWF-Australia:
“Ecotourism can be a great way for fire-affected communities to build strong, local economies while protecting and celebrating their cultural and natural heritage.”
“The growing demand for high-integrity ecotourism shows that we don’t have to choose between a healthy environment or a strong economy. We’re proud to have supported the East Gippsland community on its ECO Destination journey.”
Quote from Daniel Miller, CEO of Gunaikurnai Land and WatersAboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC):
“Caring for Country is about recognising that Traditional Owners have a cultural and spiritual connection to the land. Gunaikurnai people, as custodians of the land, water, air and sky, have a key role to play ensuring respectful, sustainable environmental practices are followed.”
Quote from Terry Robinson, CEO of Destination Gippsland
“East Gippsland has long been offering world-class, nature-based outdoor experiences and official recognition of the region’s commitment to sustainability will bolster its visitor economy.”
“Ecotourism has become one of the fastest-growing sectors of Australia’s tourism industry. Travellers are hungry for sustainable tourism experiences and ECO Destination Certification will give East Gippsland’s nature-based tourism sector and the region a well-earned boost.”