Being invited to speak recently at the Global Eco Conference in Noosa had the added attraction of letting me visit a part of the world I’d never been to before.

With a focus on indigenous tourism, they certainly put me to work with three keynotes, two panels and a lunch meeting with Tourism Noosa. The people at Ecotourism Australia, who ran the event, are bound  by their passion for what they do and the fact they are outliers from the mainstream tourism, which is very dominant in Australia.  There were many things that surprised me about this conference but none more that the fact that Ecotourism Australia is not supported by Tourism Australia.

While I think the new “There’s nothing like … Australia” campaign by Tourism Australia is beautifully shot, it certainly doesn’t appeal to an international audience. It’s very patriotic and would be a stellar campaign to stimulate domestic travel, but the underlying questions on my trip centred on the support for indigenous tourism. This is a big interest for international tourists and Ecotourism Australia. It never entered my mind that Tourism Australia would not be supporting such a prestigious event or issue.

Ecotourism Australia has been a pioneer and early adopter in the ecotourism industry, but without the support of the major tourism arm in Australia, its impact will be limited.  I am in disbelief that it does not get funding to increase the awareness around the cause and establish a leadership position because it has everyone’s ear.

I spoke with many of the other speakers, who range from the UN to some of the most influential private-sector companies before confirming my attendance, in order to compare notes about the issues and see if we can have a positive impact in the area. This eco-travel community has been built over 18 years, though there were no senior people in attendance from Tourism Australia and that is simply too bad. Tourism Australia is being left behind while globally sustainability has become a mainstream issue and is at the forefront of everyone else’s agenda.

Tourism Noosa and Noosa itself (as a destination) were fantastic: so underrated and surprisingly different from other coastal destinations in Australia. What stood out for me is the sense of community and almost village-like atmosphere that was not only charming but surprisingly authentic. I lunched with the board of Tourism Noosa and we had a spirited debate in the most beautiful restaurant overlooking the ocean.

I was rather argumentative about their new campaign and debated their target audience. I felt that what they have is a special opportunity to differentiate based on their people and cultural assets.  We talked about the use of social media and how they presently use this space. I will say that the group I was expecting would have been rather stiff or conservative, but the group I found was not at all. I really enjoyed our lunch and not only did I learn a lot about the region, but I even committed to coming back with my kids.