How Exactly Do Tourism Dollars Support Conservation?
This article was first published by our friends at WHL Group, who have agreed to its republication here. View original article on The Travel Word
By Joe Ascanio
As conservation tourism becomes more and more popular, how can travelers be certain of exactly where and how their money is being spent? One wildlife conservation group is leading by example by clearly outlining exactly how travelers’ dollars contribute to the sustainability of conservation projects and surrounding communities.
Conservation tourism – considered to be a “sub-niche” of sorts of geotourism, in line with voluntourism and “local travel” – is booming. Travelers continue to seek meaningful opportunities to immerse in and support the natural environments and communities they visit, while destinations proliferate the means to capitalize as a way to boost their economies and increase ecological and even cultural awareness.
By supporting efforts to protect endangered species through fees and donations, conservation tourism aims to benefit local communities; increasing awareness and appreciation for our planet’s environmental and ecological concerns while delivering a much-needed sustainable source of revenue for conservation efforts. These tours also provide a viable economic development alternative for local communities that have few other income-generating options.
However, it can be difficult for travelers to accurately determine just how much of their financial commitment directly benefits conservation projects and the local economies of their destinations, as opposed to benefiting the travel purveyors themselves – as is unfortunately sometimes the case.
No More Guesswork
However, one travel/tour group is looking to negate that stigma by placing a layer of absolute transparency between the travelers’ wallets and the communities they help to flourish – a worthy model for the conservation tourism as well as the entire geo/eco-tourism spectrum to follow.
Turtles are curious creatures that have walked (and swum) this earth since the time of the dinosaurs. Little is known about this migratory animal that often will swim thousands of miles across oceans to return to the very beaches where they were born to lay their eggs. This green turtle was photographed in Seychelles, an image courtesy of Flickr/whl.travel
SEE Turtles, a well-known wildlife conservation tourism project, has eliminated the “guessing game” by establishing a unique and completely transparent pricing model that clearly lays out the economic impact of conservation tourism dollars on environmental sustainability and responsible community development. The new pricing allows conscientious travelers to engage in meaningful wildlife conservation initiatives alongside local sea turtle researchers, while fully aware of exactly where their money is going and how it directly benefits the cause.
The company puts it all out there: demonstrating exactly how their tour guests’ financial contributions contribute to the sustainability of turtle conservation projects and the surrounding communities. Right on their website for the world to see, SEE Turtles outlines each tour’s estimated per person amount – in dollars and percentages – that gets allocated to two key areas: Conservation and Turtle Communities.
Conservation includes fees and donations given to local conservation organizations to protect turtle habitat, hire local residents, and support scientific research and to SEE Turtles to promote our educational programs. For volunteer trips, this also includes the value of donated time.
Communities represents the direct and indirect spending by tour guests to support locally-owned businesses near sea turtle hotspots including hotels, restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues. Such income helps communities recognize the value of sea turtles as an important resource to protect and inspires local support for conservation.
Turtles are natural seafaring creatures that can measure up to 51 inches (130 centimetres) in length and weigh 660 pounds (300 kilograms). They are the earth’s oldest living reptiles. Known for their shy defensive mechanisms, turtles actually have some of the best night vision in the animal kingdom. This loggerhead turtle was is off the coast of Turkey near Kas. Photo courtesy of Flickr/whltravel
According to SEE Turtles, at least 30% of each SEE Turtles trip goes towards support of conservation and communities. The average across all trips is 48%, with 16% directly supporting conservation and 32% spent in local communities. The $150 per person average supporting conservation efforts is the equivalent of hiring a researcher to patrol a nesting beach in Costa Rica for two weeks.
“Travelers are becoming increasingly aware of their responsibility to help protect nature and local cultures,” said Jim Dion, Associate Director, Center for Sustainable Destinations at National Geographic. “SEE Turtles’ Conservation Pricing Model sets a new standard for transparency that will help travelers to evaluate tourism options and feel confident their travel dollars are benefiting local communities and conservation efforts.”
As more and more conservation-geared companies move toward this or a similar model of pricing transparency, it will be interesting to see how traveler numbers fare. As recent reports have suggested, money is of course still a factor in travel decisions – especially in such trying economic times. Even responsible travelers can be skeptical, and often with good reason.
About the Author: Joe Ascanio
Joe Ascanio is Founder and Editor of TerraCurve.com, a blog/online community dedicated to helping people choose products, services and destinations that are a better choice for the planet and its people, while enabling individuals and businesses to educate themselves on the environmental impacts of their choices. Join the discussion on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.