As you probably know, our oceans are in grave danger. They are sustaining harmful blows every day, and tourism is responsible for a chunk of the damage. Tour operators in marine coastal environments are in a unique position to inform their guests of the importance of our oceans and their ecosystems.
There are so many ways to jump up a few levels on the eco-friendliness scale. Many of them will even help keep money in your pocket and maintain, perhaps even increase, the value of your tours and the beauty of the areas you work in. Let’s talk about two things that coastal tour operators can incorporate into their tour businesses. Though they may be somewhat time-consuming, the environment and your wallet will thank you. And let’s face it — there’s nothing more important than the environment, especially to a tour operator!
Educate your guests on marine wildlife.
Not every tourist can be a marine scientist, so they tend to lack knowledge about marine wildlife. For example, many tourists to coastal regions do not realize that a starfish is a living, breathing animal, and many take them from the ocean to bring home as a decoration. Another example is new scuba divers, who commonly make mistakes. Upon descent to the ocean floor, they often land abruptly onto a head of coral (which is, in fact, an animal), thinking it is just a boulder or plant. Actions like these are not only harmful to the animals themselves but also disruptive to the ecosystem that they participate in.
As a tour operator encouraging others to spend time with the marine world, you are in the perfect position to provide well-educated guidance. An introductory, 15-minute lecture or a short video can go a long way. This video by National Geographic gives an 8-minute overview of how important the ocean is to our daily lives. It also discusses what sort of impacts humans have on this vital environment. The LAMAVE Project created this video, which primarily applies to the Philippines, but is a good overview of how to treat animals as guests encounter them. By showing these videos or videos like these (or even making your own!), coastal tour operators can significantly cut down on damage done to marine environments on their tours.
As your clients’ guide, your main goal upon their arrival to your oceanside oasis should be to remind them to not hurt the environment that they undoubtedly came to see. As human beings, we are merely visitors to the marine world, and we must remember to take nothing but photos, kill nothing but time, and leave nothing but bubbles. The ocean is perfect as it naturally is, so strive to conserve the environment that your business is based around. If you want to keep your business running for a long time, it is in your best interest to make sure your guests treat it in a responsible way.
Choose reusable products over single-use.
As you probably know, single-use plastics and other garbage often end up in the ocean, which is why countries with extensive coastlines, like Chile, are taking steps towards banning plastic bags. By offering alternative solutions to plastic cutlery or water bottles, you can reduce the impact of your business on the environment and your wallet. While convenient, buying such products is not the most economically sound choice. Think about ways your specific business could cut down on single-use plastics. For example, if you’re a boat tour operator, have a refillable water cooler on deck instead of a cooler full of disposable water bottles.
While you should consider going the extra mile to make your tourism business even more eco-friendly and more economically sound, these two steps can be your starting line. As we all know, small changes can have profound effects, and the friendlier we are with the Earth, the longer we will get to keep it.
Don’t let this hold you back, get creative!
Several businesses on the coast out there provide an incentive to encourage their guests to help out. Beachfront cafes in Australia offer a free cup of coffee (even a beer in the evening) for every bucket of trash gathered from the beach. This pulls potential clients into your business and helps out the environment. What could be better?
You could even organize a clean-up event, like the Institution for the Oceans and Fisheries did in Canada — all the volunteers were treated to free barbecue afterward. Follow their lead and offer a free group tour after the clean-up.
Let’s transform ecotourism from a trendy topic to the standard!
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