You ladies know, I love when life serendipitously brings amazing things into being. (It makes me feel like I am truly on the right path.)
I was at Nia Class and got to talking to one of the women after class about sustainable tourism. She mentioned that a friend of hers, an Albuquerque local- there’s that serendipity, was also crafting a website about sustainable tourism. I checked out the website and fell in love with what Terry Lawson Dunn has created. We were able to meet for coffee and begin what I hope will bring amazing things for you and us as well. As you may know, if you have clicked on the ecotourism list above, I have been slowing working to create a list of sustainable travel locations, but was finding it incredibly difficult. Terry created it better than I could have ever imagined on her newly launched website of EcoTripMatch.com. The goal of which helps travelers narrow down their wish list and the time spent searching for the perfect sustainable tourism location through a matching database. How cool is that?!?
Ready to begin the interview?
How did you become interested in sustainable tourism?
I have always been interested in wildlife and environmental conservation. My background is in wildlife biology and environmental communication, so in my work, I have seen a lot of examples of what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to protecting endangered places. I think ecotourism/sustainable tourism is the most promising conservation tool. I really like how it gives communities an alternative income while really opening up the hearts and minds of visitors. When ecotourism is done well, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Why did you start the website? Where did the idea of creating it as a matching database system come from?
About eight years ago I started taking groups to the forests of Panama, where I had worked early in my career. In the many discussions I had with people who went with me, it was clear that doing the research to find an ideal trip was a daunting task that usually involved many, many hours on the Internet. I also saw eco-lodge staff bend over backwards to appease guests whose expectations were different than what was being offered. I started to realize that the two sides of ecotourism…the ecotourists and eco-businesses… we’re not finding each other as well as they could. I also wanted people who wouldn’t consider themselves ecotourists to find it easy to travel in a different way. The solution that came to mind was a website where people could answer some typical questions and then get a tailored list of places that met that criteria. Ecotourists do much more research and ask a lot more questions than someone simply looking for a room and a price like you might on hotels.com. They want to know what activities are available, how difficult it is to get to a place, how much stamina they will need when they get there, and if they will need immunizations. My purpose in developing EcoTripMatch.com is to support the promise of ecotourism by making it easier!
When ecotourism is done well, it’s a win-win for everyone.
Why did you originally go to Panama?
Originally, I went to Panama with other biologists to study birds. It was such a profound experience to spend months in the forests there.
How long have you been working on the site?
It’s been about a year and a half since the idea first started to take shape. There were many steps involved from talking to tourists about the questions they usually have, to finding out what would be useful to ecolodges, to creating the look of the website to actually building and testing the website.
How did you go about contacting the places for inclusion into the website?
This is the part of building the website that took the longest. In fact, I have many, many more places to recontact and contact for the first time. I did my research carefully, looking for places that ‘walked the talk’ and trying to avoid places that really couldn’t back up their eco-friendly label with real eco-friendly efforts. I contacted each place and asked what made them different and special in terms of what they offer as an eco-lodge or eco-tour company. It was actually a beautiful thing to hear all the descriptions, the pride, and the passion in some of the e-mails I got back. I also heard about some of the frustrations with trying to do something different. There were many e-mails back and forth between myself and these places about the website idea, what would make it useful to them, what I should modify about the idea, Etc. The ones that are on there now were all part of the process developing the website.
What was the biggest lesson or surprise of creating EcoTripMatch.com so far?
It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I think finding people all over the world that are so sincere and hard-working in their efforts to protect the places and communities they hold dear, was the biggest surprise. It takes an extra level of commitment to create something in the sustainable tourism realm… the extra research it takes to find sustainable practices, to work through any government regulations, to ‘sell’ the idea within their communities, then to literally reach out to the world to welcome guests. It’s been so heartwarming to learn about all these efforts and then devoted people behind them.
Is there one place listed on your site that you really want to go next?
Well, I am actually going to one of the places on the site in September….Sausage Tree Safari Camp in South Africa…as part of a larger trip to Africa! Beyond that, I think Four Rivers Floating Lodge in Cambodia looks like an amazing, unusual experience. There are also people associated with some of the lodges and tours on my site that I’ve had so much communication with that I would love to meet in person!
I also wanted people who wouldn’t consider themselves ecotourists to find it easy to travel in a different way.
What has been your favorite moment of an eco-trip that you have been on?
My favorite moment was actually a pretty simple moment. It was on one of the trips I went to the Amazon (Peru this time and about 15 years ago). I was in a dugout canoe, with some of my closest friends at the time. We emerged from the flooded forest into the main Amazon. We had just seen monkeys in the trees and the sun was setting in front of us in all shades of orange and purple and behind us, the full moon was rising. It filled the senses in a way I have never forgotten.
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