Woman honored as eco-pioneer

BURLINGTON Megan Epler Wood of Burlington was named as a Trail Blazer in Conde Nast Traveler's September 2008 magazine issue, which highlights 10 eco-travel watchdogs including Epler Wood who is a 20-year veteran and pioneer of the ecotourism movement. Epler Woods decade of work in the 1990s running the International Ecotourism Society, which she founded, helped to define ecotourism and create the field that exists today. In recent years, she has increasingly focused on the business and economics of tourism as a means to combat poverty - demonstrating how tourist dollars can help countries ethically and sustainably develop even in the most challenging circumstances, such as after civil wars. I have learned that without applying good, solid business solutions in developing countries all efforts to make tourism ethical or green go for naught, she said. I find myself helping folks develop small tourism businesses in just about every remote rain forest region on the planet, she said. Epler Wood has seen the demand for ethical tourism in remote parts of the planet skyrocket in the last 10 years. Governments around the world and their people see tourism as a means to bring their economy to a new level, she said. She believes helping folks with good business practices first is key to paving the way for responsible tourism. She will work with partners in Bangladesh to create an ecotourism program at a tiger preserve on the Bay of Bengal which also includes a beautiful beach that is increasingly heavily populated by local travelers. What is amazing is that in the last few years, my job is not to attract foreigners but to help design tourism for local travelers because of the growing demand for leisure travel in natural areas among local citizens even in developing countries, she said. Her new website, www.eplerwood.com was recently created to allow non-technical specialists to understand how ecotourism consultants approach their work. Dramatic pictures showcase EplerWood International's work to help prevent tourism from overrunning fragile landscapes in places like Honduras and Cambodia, to build a better opportunity for poor workers on coffee and tea farms in El Salvador and Sri Lanka, to assist a devastated economy in a post-civil war country like Sierra Leone to rebuild. Each of these countries has begun to emerge as tourist destinations both during and after Epler Wood?s work. I think few people realize that behind the scenes there is an extraordinary amount of effort to help countries, businesses and their citizens to better understand how to make the tourism economy work for them, she said. What the tourist sees is the tip of the iceberg. The steps required to prevent tourism from destroying the places you visit are my stock and trade, but I want more young people to get involved in helping countries develop ethical tourism around the world, and have more travelers worldwide understand what it takes to make tourism responsible.

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