Tourism Port Douglas Daintree CEO Tara Bennett on destination sustainability

Tourism Port Douglas Daintree
Tourism Port Douglas Daintree’s CEO Tara Bennett.

Tara Bennett, Tourism Port Douglas Daintree CEO, spoke with CIM about the importance of sustainable travel.

As a region, tourism in Port Douglas and the Daintree has flourished over the last three decades because of our natural assets, so we have a deep commitment to ensuring that travel within the region is sustainable, not only for the environment, but also for the community, culture, and the economy.

However, the industry has changed. As the years go by, we’re becoming more and more aware of the threat of climate change and our role in escalating it. There has been growing demand worldwide for travel and business organisers to incorporate sustainability into their plans.

People are far more aware of the impact they make on the planet – climate change and global warming have accelerated our concern for the footprint we’re making in our day-to-day lives, travel is just an extension of that. People want to be certain that if they’re going somewhere with a high natural value that their travel plans reflect that, and for businesses and group travel this is magnified.

When Douglas Shire first became an ECO Certified Destination in 2019, we were the first destination in the world to go through the independently audited, eco-certification process. Now, 22 other regions from Australia and the Pacific are going through the process to gain their certification.

For us to have gone through the certification process, which is now a global standard, we’ve done the hard work so that business planners can have the confidence that they are meeting these corporate responsibilities. Organisers have the confidence that we are applying best practices in the destination, and we are looking after sustainability across the environment, economy, and community.

An example of this is the award-winning Mossman Gorge Centre. Through its environmental and sustainable initiatives, the Mossman Gorge Centre has managed visitor traffic, reduced overcrowding, and created employment for the traditional custodians creating economic flow.

Of course, promoting the value of sustainability doesn’t come without its challenges. One of the great hurdles we found was applying sustainability practices and scaling up the whole region. As destination marketers, we simply can’t be in control of every business and their environmental practices.

Tourism Port Douglas Daintree’s role is to encourage businesses to adopt better practices, and to share those good stories – with everything from wildlife management to cultural protocols, we want to make sure tourism is having a positive impact, and monitor those impacts on the community.

A great example of a business adapting to the environment while simultaneously adopting sustainability practices is that of a 5-star resort here in region that recently went through a renovation. When they re-did the electrics, they adopted technology that picked up thermal movement in the room, regulating the temperature of the room accordingly, rather than having the air conditioning running continuously.

Through that, they saw between a 30% to 40% reduction in their electricity use, as it was being used only as required. A double-header of cost-saving and better environmental outcomes.

Businesses may also be choosing to offset the travel they’re planning – we’re seeing a lot more of this. Their sustainability path may be choosing to go through eco-certification themselves, which gives them greater confidence that the businesses they’re working with are doing the right thing.

And then, on the ground, it may mean that visiting groups have guest speakers to talk from a conservation point of view, ensure cultural protocols are being adhered to such as incorporating a Welcome To Country, or it could mean planting some trees or engaging in wildlife rescue care. There are many different levels between offset, immersion and interaction.

Sustainable tourism is more than simply protecting our natural assets for the future; it’s about achieving environmental, economic, and community sustainability. We aren’t 100% perfect, but we are absolutely committed to consistent improvement.