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We’ve written before on the Tourism Tiger blog about how tourism impacts the environment and what tour operators can do to minimize their impact on their surroundings. Check out the following posts for more information: The Steady Rise of Ecotourism, Applying the Principles of Ecotourism in Coastal Environments, Ethical Wildlife Tourism: Safaris, Tourism Trends 2019: Responsible Tourism

In June, National Geographic magazine published a thought-provoking article titled “Suffering unseen: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism(opens in a new tab)”. This article is not what most would consider “light reading” as it focuses on the dangers of animal encounters for tourism purposes and addresses the evermore prominent role of social media in the growth of this industry. Kirsten Luce, the author of the article, argues that social media may do more harm than good when it comes to the welfare of wild animals; many influencers and other social media participants don’t look far beyond the likes and followers that result from a photo of themselves riding an elephant or sitting next to a tiger. The repercussions of disregarding animal welfare are dire, but what’s worse is the normalization of these activities in the public eye, Luce writes:

“[Wildlife encounter tourism] succeeds partly because tourists—in unfamiliar settings and eager to have a positive experience—typically don’t consider the possibility that they’re helping to hurt animals. Social media adds to the confusion: Oblivious endorsements from friends and trendsetters legitimize attractions before a traveler ever gets near an animal.”

As a passionate advocate for the environment, this absolutely breaks my heart. But just when you start to lose faith in humanity, hope springs new again because we are lucky to live in a world with incredibly intelligent and creative individuals. Towards the end of July, Nala Rogers of Inside Science wrote an article titled “Tourists’ Photos May Help Wildlife Conservation Effort(opens in a new tab)”. The notion that tourists may be able to help scientists to monitor, and therefore protect, the wildlife they are on holiday to see is a win-win situation. This innovative technique was dreamt up by Kasim Rafiq when he was trying, and failing, to study a specific leopard; after being stuck in a warthog burrow all day, he heard later that afternoon that tourists had been snapping shots of the very creature he needed to photograph all afternoon.

After careful comparison of this newfangled monitoring method to more traditional methods, Kasim and his team discovered that the tourist photo method was not only more precise, but also much cheaper and more efficient! It was less work for scientists, and the tourists involved were happy to carry GPS devices and donate their photos free of charge. Being a part of something helpful and contributing in a positive way is something that most tourists are interested in, despite any preconceived notions we may have as tour operators.

This tourist-based method is catching on all around the world. Conservation Northwest, a wildlife conservation organization located in Washington, USA, began the project Citizen Wildlife Monitoring(opens in a new tab), where anyone can become a part-time volunteer by submitting photos or other observations of wildlife in the Pacific Northwest. This extremely successful initiative relies on the participation of individuals who become tourists in their own homes.

I realize that not all of us are environmentalists, but to be frank, there is no reason not to be. If you’re an outdoor tour operator, you already know that your business depends on the environment in a major way. Why take guests snorkeling in the Florida Keys or the Cayman Islands if there aren’t any animals to see? How can you expect to go ziplining in the jungle if jungle cover in your area is 40% of what it was a few years ago? Even if you don’t consider yourself an outdoor tour operator that travels to natural spaces, your business depends on the environment more than you know. Hearing that ambient temperatures around the world are changing is nothing new; if you have an outdoor bus or walking tour, hotter days may mean fewer people. Clearcut or burned forests aren’t the prettiest sight when you’re soaring high above on a helicopter tour, and can be downright discouraging.

As active participants in the tourism industry, it is in our best interest to take care of the very places we are promoting to tourists. Start thinking of ways you can make your business greener, how you could contribute to local conservation efforts, and tips that you can give your guests to help keep your spaces free of unnecessary human debris. Chances are your guests will appreciate your efforts and write positive reviews for you; the more confident your guests are about your company’s ethical practices, the more likely you are to attract other like-minded individuals (that is, get more sales!). And, if you are looking to increase sales, get in touch with us to chat about a new website that will definitely bring in the customers.

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