Eco-based Tourism, for all intents and purposes, is a relatively new concept.
Built around the idea of a ‘traveler’, not a ‘tourist’, Eco-based Tourism (or EBT) focuses less on the man-made attractions of an area and more on the beauty offered by nature.
In 2006, more than 4.2 million Florida Residents chose not to spend their summer vacation money at a theme park, but rather on one of the thousands of nature-based attractions throughout the state.
And, according to John Kiseda of the South West Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism, the Tri-County area has a vast wealth of potential for the Eco-Tourism industry. Kiseda, who is the also the Parks and Recreation coordinator for Lee County, has worked to promote Eco-based Tourism around the state for 8 years now.
At a meeting held on Monday night at the Chiefland campus of Central Florida Community College, Kiseda, along with Fanning Springs Mayor Carol McQueen and Pure Water Wilderness Director Donna Creamer, discussed the benefits of Eco-Tourism and how entrepreneurs in the area can get an EBT business started.
The event drew a crowd of around 30 people, most of whom were business owners from the area.
Joleen Gonzalez, who is the local CFCC Coordinator for Continuing Education, functioned as the evening’s Mistress of Ceremonies. The meeting would last two hours, in which time those in attendance would learn of the positive aspects offered by EBT to the area.
In addition to the increased revenue brought through the food, lodging, and tax money spent by Eco-Travelers, the area could also benefit from the influx of money being recycled back into the local state and national parks.
According to Kiseda, the average non-resident Eco-Traveler is 51 years old, married, well educated, and of the upwardly mobile middle class’. He says that most Eco-Travelers prefer a longer trip, upward of 10 days, and are will to pay up to 6.2 percent more on the cost of a ‘Green’ trip. And although Florida has more than 400 ‘Green’ hotels ( i.e. hotels which work with state and local agencies to help conserve and restore surrounding wilderness), Kiseda warns of people who have become known as ‘Greenwashers’. These are people who, rather than assist in the maintaining and renewal of EBT destinations, choose to exploit and undermine the entire ’Eco-Travel’ campaign.
Carol McQueen is the not only the Fanning Springs city mayor. She is also an executive board member to Visit Florida.com and the Levy County Tourism Chairperson. Also in attendance Monday night, McQueen gave a presentation on the bounty of natural beauty in the Tri-County area. Attendants were shown a short film put together by the Levy County tourism board, after which McQueen gave a short speech on the efforts being put for by the county to gather support for EBT in the area.
Shortly thereafter, Donna Creamer, the Executive Director of the Florida Pure Water and Wilderness Foundation, gave a speech on the opportunities for rural, natural tourism throughout the area.
Business owners were given many EBT ideas such as horseback riding rentals, bike rentals and barn dances. Creamer enforced the idea of a rural community using what assets it already has to make the area more desirable a destination for the intrepid Eco-Traveler. After the final presentation by Creamer, the audience was allowed a ‘Q&A’ session with the three visiting dignitaries that evening. Many of the local business owners questions focused around the economy and how Florida’s tourism board could help them. Once all questions were sufficiently answered the meeting was adjourned and the future of EBT in the Tri-County area was left in the hands of a few driven residents, many of whom expressed a readiness to take the next step forward in their business toward an Eco-Friendly future.