4 big learnings from a Leave No Trace Awareness Course
Leave No Trace and the tourism industry are intrinsically linked and the fact that the National Tourism Development Authority of our country here in Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, has become a partner of Leave No Trace goes to prove that. The tourism industry has a responsibility to not only follow but also raise awareness of responsible outdoor ethics amongst their staff, local community and visitors as it is a way of conserving our natural heritage and environment - two of the main reasons for why our visitors have the desire to explore our Emerald Isle. The Leave No Trace Awareness Course is the first step in truly understanding the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace and brainstorming ways in which they can be adapted and shared amongst your destination and/or business. It is an opportunity to connect with others who may or may not be within the industry and be inspired by their backgrounds, experiences and thought processes. Within your destination, it is an opportunity for local businesses and representatives to build relationships, discuss what they can do to share their understanding of this ethos and further collaborate. For your destination, it is another opportunity to advance in growing as a sustainable tourism network.
After delivering several Leave No Trace Awareness Courses and receiving feedback from participants, several big learnings have emerged. For many the Awareness Course has been an enlightening introduction to a new way of thinking and for others it has been a great refresher to what they already know. Last year I wrote an article on what you can expect from taking part in an Awareness Course. After delivering more courses throughout the year, I can safely stand by the points included. You can expect to gain an in-depth learning of the Principles. You can expect to immerse yourself in the outdoors. You can expect to engage in thought-provoking conversations, have fun, join in on healthy debates and bring home or to work important learnings from the day. The following are a few of the recurring learnings, in my experience, that have surfaced for participants.
A connection with the importance of nature and our environment
During the day, one activity that we engage in aims to remind participants of the importance placed on our environment and our connection with nature. The clean air we breathe gives us life, as do the trees, soil and water around us, as well as providing us with our local produce. Trees filter our water systems and prevent flooding. The sound of the wind blowing through the leaves relaxes us and being in the outdoors in general regulates our mental state. From a tourism perspective, all of this also attracts our visitors. One of the most well-known destinations here in Ireland is the Wild Atlantic Way. What is it drawing our visitor to? Well, the wild Atlantic Ocean of course. Among other attractions such as the music, culture and food, tourists are attracted to the spectacular landscapes, the ability to escape to the coast at every turn in the road and visit all the charming towns and castle ruins along the way. After all, 91% of international visitors come to Ireland for its beautiful scenery and 82% come for the natural, unspoilt environment. If our visitors are coming for these reasons, isn’t this reason enough to conserve our environment all the more? As an industry we can ensure that our communities and local environments are more naturally attractive for both locals and visitors. Our environment is our unique selling point, emphasising the importance of protecting it and allowing it to flourish as much as possible.
The Breakdown of Rubbish
One activity that always leaves a lasting impact with participants on the Awareness Course is the Rubbish Breakdown Game. This is an introduction into Principle 6: Dispose of Waste Properly. Did you know that it takes approximately 80 years for a crisp packet to decompose? The discoveries that come out of this activity always give a shock to participants and opens up profound discussions. Questions that arise include:
- How can we help our visitors to dispose of their waste correctly?
- Can we supply produce with less packaging so as to not add to this waste?
- Should we provide more bins or provide ways to encourage visitors to bring their waste home with them?
- How can we manage and discourage dumping?
What questions would arise for you?
Different ways we and our visitors can have an impact
Sometimes our impact is invisible to the naked eye. Exploring the 7 Principles during the Awareness Course can bring certain types of impact to life. When discussing the Principle ‘Travel and Camp on Durable Ground’, one small but significant demonstration I like to do is to have one person walk through a short distance of long grass and then have several participants (only a couple so as not to create an impact ourselves!) do the same in a single file in another patch. After, we can see the visible difference between the lone journey and the one taken by the group. This emphasises the importance of controlling our carrying capacity and group sizes. How can we ensure that our impact is always minimal? How can we manage numbers so our environment, landscapes, cities and towns are not drastically changed nor the livelihood of those who live in them.
Awareness of our companions in the outdoors
Whether we are taking a group out into the outdoors or indulging in a lone trip in nature, we are always accompanied by others. This is very much highlighted through activities which investigated Principles such as ‘Be Considerate of Others’ and ‘Respect Farm Animals and Wildlife’. During these activities, participants are invited to experience all the sounds of life around them, emphasising once again how connected we are to nature. These activities also remind participants that not only are we joined by the blooming biodiversity and inspiring creatures around us, we may also be accompanied by other outdoor users who may be more sensitive to sounds and sudden movements or who may not have the same mobility capabilities as others. This sometimes brings out a discussion of how our businesses and destinations could be more inclusive and accessible to these members of our society.
It goes without saying, many in-depth conversations emanate from a Leave No Trace Awareness Course and solid learnings are made. It is important that they are shared and spread across our businesses, communities and destinations. Tourism businesses and destination networks have the opportunity to create a proactive and positive impact by actively promoting and educating visitors and staff in knowing how best to behave responsibly in the outdoors. Online and through social media is one small action you can take today. Have you taken the Leave No Trace Pledge yet? Why not book your spot, or that of your colleague, on an Awareness Course today. Better yet, organise one for your business or destination. Together we can all raise awareness of these 7 important Principles and apply actions so our tourism industry can be a true guardian of our natural environment and heritage.
Aoibheann is an accredited Leave No Trace trainer and delivers Awareness Courses as part of destination development training programmes and sustainability training programme. You can learn more about previous programmes here. Get in touch if you would like to organise a programme for your destination at [email protected]. Read more about the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace here.
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