Ecotourism Operator


As an ecotourism operator, you specialize in leading clients on tours to learn about an area’s natural and cultural history while preserving its natural environment. You use strong interpretation and communication skills to build tours that teach clients to appreciate nature in new ways, as well as highlighting and being sensitive to local cultures and communities. You demonstrate the importance of preserving ecosystems by incorporating methods into your tours that decrease the stress visitors exert on the environment, for example cycling or hiking through parks rather than driving, or touring parks out of season, when there are fewer visitors.

At a glance

Imagine you are sitting quietly in a small boat off the Atlantic coast watching a female sperm whale and her calf surface for air. You are an ecotourism operator in the middle of one of your many summer whale-watching excursions. The other eight people on your boat are clients who have bought a five-day tour package from your company to be introduced to and guided around the ecological highlights of Canada's east coast. As your awestruck guests watch the whale clear her blowhole and dive 20 metres below the water's surface, you quietly deliver a short lecture on the sperm whale and other species that live along this environmentally sensitive coastline. You want your clients to enjoy their vacation, while learning about this ecosystem and gaining a new appreciation for natural areas. As an ecotourism operator, you like the fact that you get to spend your summers hiking, camping, and boating and your winters cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, and dog-sledding. But this is a tough job that takes a lot of organizational skill and physical stamina, and you have to love working with all different kinds of people. This group is only on day two of its adventure trip. Yesterday you led everyone on a sea kayaking tour of the Bay of Fundy, teaching them not only about the amazing tides, but about the geological formations and wildlife species native to this habitat. After today's whale-watching excursion, you will set up camp in another national park and lead a sunset hike, lecturing on the unique characteristics of coastal forests. By the time the five days are up, you will have visited all four Atlantic provinces, biked more than 100 kilometres, rafted down a river, crossed a lake in a canoe, hiked through three national or provincial parks, and snorkelled in one shallow bay. You and your clients will be exhausted, but they will have learned a great deal about the natural history of the areas they've visited, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing you have both entertained and educated another group of people.

Job duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an ecotourism operator:
  • Arrange advertising for tours and services through various marketing campaigns.
  • Coordinate, organize, and arrange tours, including accommodation, transportation, and food.
  • Perform customer service duties, including greeting clients, responding to requests, and handling situations, to provide customers with satisfactory experiences.
  • Guide, control, and accompany visitors tours of ecologically significant areas.
  • Conduct tours in a safe manner according to safety guidelines, including responding with first aid and attending to the group's needs if incidents arise.
  • Drive vans and other vehicles, often with tour passengers.
  • Locate, identify, and sight plants and wildlife or signs of wildlife.
  • Research and educate visitors on indigenous flora, fauna, and cultures using entertaining but factual interpretive talks and presentations.
  • Maintain written reports of activities.
  • Keep necessary certifications current, including participating in training and professional development.

Work environment

Ecotourism operator work in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to: In the field:
  • Guiding groups and leading tours
  • Attending training courses and professional development seminars
In the office:
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, colleagues, supervisors, and suppliers
  • Explaining tours and services to prospective clients
  • Researching information and folklore for use in tours
  • Arranging advertising

Where to work

There are a number of places ecotourism operators can find employment. They include:
  • Ecotourism and adventure tour companies
  • Parks and private preserves
  • Vacation resorts and cruise companies
  • Summer camps
  • School programs
  • Tourism bureaus
  • Universities and colleges

Education & requirements

If you are a high school student considering a career as an ecotourism operator, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
  • Physical Education/Outdoor Education
  • Biology
  • Social Studies
  • Geography
  • English
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an ecotourism operator is a technical diploma. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an ecotourism operator, the following programs are most applicable:
  • Ecotourism
  • Outdoor Recreation
  • Parks and Forest Recreation
  • Biology
  • Geography
  • Environmental Studies
Ecotourism operators can have a range of backgrounds in addition to those listed above, including post-secondary education in communications and heritage interpretation. Although it is not mandatory to become certified in order to work as an ecotourism operator, it is recommended. In addition, most ecotourism operators have formal first aid training and specialized certificates for activities such as diving, rafting, backcountry hiking, and cross-country skiing.

Salary

Ecotourism operators with a college diploma earn an average of $20,000 per year in Canada. With a university degree and with several years of experience ecotourism operators can earn between $32,000 and $68,000 per year.

Role Model

Frank Brown

Frank Brown knew right out of high school that he wanted to work in outdoor recreation. He went from high school in Bella Bella, British Columbia and life on the reserve right to Capilano College in Vancouver where he completed the two-year program in tourism management. Today he's the owner of his own business back home in the Native community of Waglisla near Bella Bella, where he organizes visits for tourists to his first nation. "On a typical day the guests arrive and we welcome them into our homeland," he says. "After the orientation we take them out into the field, where we do walking tours. On the ocean-going canoe tours we provide a narrative of our history and culture, and share some of our traditional culture through songs. On the walking tours we do flora and fauna interpretation. We also do 3-day ocean-going canoe excursions where our guests have a chance to paddle into different bio-regions from inland fiords to rugged West-coast beaches." Frank's work has helped breathe fresh life into some Native traditions. For example, in 1986 he helped organize the first carving of a traditional canoe in Bella Bella in more than a hundred years, then he and the rest of his crew paddled it to Vancouver for Expo 86. And he organized a regatta for ocean-going canoes for all Native bands in the Pacific Northwest in 1993. He has also built a traditional Native longhouse. What motivates Frank? "Many times as Native people we don't recognize the uniqueness of our situations. Travelling and living in the outside world helped me to realize how beautiful and pristine my home is. I wanted to be able to share that in a cross-cultural setting. That's how I got involved in owning and operating an aboriginal heritage and eco-tourism business."