Masaru Takayama, founder of Japan Ecolodge Association
THE absence of an authoritative body to represent the voices of ecotourism and sustainable tourism players in Asia was what drove Masaru Takayama, founder of Japan Ecolodge Association and responsible tour outfit Spirit of Japan, to spearhead the formation of the Asian Ecotourism Network (AEN) last year.
“We want to create new synergy and networking opportunities for AEN stakeholders,” said Takayama, who chairs AEN. “We seek to provide and educate them with modern learning tools, training opportunities and marketing influence, and emphasise the importance of embracing global standards.”
Located in Bangkok under the care of Designated Areas for Sustainable Tourism Administration (a government agency under the Office of the Prime Minister), the network also boasts satellite offices in India, Indonesia, Japan and Malaysia.
Moving forward, certification will be a key focus for AEN, Takayama informed. The year-old network has entered into a partnership with Global Sustainable Tourism Council and set up as an internal committee to look at setting up global ecotourism standards for Asia within the next year.
Explaining the need for AEN to create its own certification standards, Takayama remarked: “There are a lot of (sustainable tourism) standards but they are usually developed by the EU or the US. We want standards for Asia by Asians.”
Besides seeking to influence the supply chain and improve industry standards through training programmes, B2B marketing and tradeshow participation will also form major objectives of AEN in developing stronger relationships.
Since its launch in June 2015, AEN now comprises 20 experts from 17 countries, with members hailing from the academia, NGOs, ecolodges and resorts, tour operators, and lodging and guiding associations.
“We are still looking for representatives in Myanmar, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam, Singapore, Central Asia and the Pacific Islands,” Takayama added.