The Story of Responsible Tourism
By Roberta Kravette
Do you remember those late night conversations? Full of passionate vows to change the world – carried on seas of red wine or coffee until the sun rose.
But ever-so-slowly my young idealism gave way to career strategies and family obligations. It seems to be the natural progression of things, idealism crowded out by growing responsibilities – or pushed into one of those overstuffed closets we never seem to have time to empty. At least that was my story.
Then one day I saw an impossible year printed across the top of the calendar. It had to be a mistake.
It was no mistake.
And that crash I just heard? It was an avalanche in the closet.
Out fell dreams of decades past. There we stood, the three of us: the battered and frayed idealism, facing the woman of a certain age and the calendar - watching. A silent witness to unfulfilled dreams.
No one person can save the world.
The world does not, in fact, need saving, we humans do. We are cause and effect. Poverty, hunger, war, bigotry, species extinction, environmental destruction, climate change, we have accomplished all of it, together. We can’t change it back – but maybe can we make it better. Together.
In 2016 the world saw 1,235 million people travel
USD 2,306 Billion was spent directly (USD 7,613 billion including transportation)
In 2017 the number of travelers rose to 1323 million people (Statistics: WTTC Global Economic Impact & Issues Report 2017)
Idealism Meets Business: Responsible Tourism
The concept of “Responsible Tourism” is a deceptively simple (dare I say, “idealistic”) working philosophy for an old industry, one that is rapidly becoming the largest in the world. Its core principles could easily be the theme for one of those youthful late-night conversations.
In essence, Responsible Tourism is a set of guidelines, whereby tourism industry participants, individuals, and corporations, voluntarily agree to do business in a way that:
Minimizes the negative economic, environmental, and social impacts of tourism;
Promotes conservation of natural and cultural heritage, bio, and cultural diversity;
Includes local people in business opportunities, decision making, and the economic benefits of their local tourism industry.
Encourages meaningful connections between local people and visitors
Provides access for physically challenged people;
And is culturally sensitive.
Responsible Tourism is business done with respect and inclusion, and it may provide a way for the world's fastest growing industry to help mitigate some of humanities ugliest “accomplishments.”
The Journey Begins
Shortly after that calendar triggered avalanche, Les and I took a good hard look at how we wanted to proceed with our lives. No, we are not kids. We understand - in full-color - life realities that we could not even conceive of decades ago. But yes, there is still something to be done, and the glue of two lifetimes worth of experience might reinforce a little of that frayed idealism.
Destination: Wildlife is Born
One of the side effects of … ahem… experience … is the understanding life’s finite nature. We should be cherishing every single moment with friends and family, strengthening the connection with each other and our world. And we need to have more fun! That concept sometimes gets lost in responsibilities. Les and I agreed that fun - for us, and for you and your family also – must be part of our new endeavor.
Our goal is nothing less than to work to bring peace, understanding, and stability to the world while ensuring its nature and cultural heritage for the future – through travel - while having fun: Responsible Tourism.
Destination: Wildlife was born to meet that goal. Come on! The clock is ticking. Let’s go on vacation!
We have spent the last year selecting destinations for their WOW factor, unique experience, and tourism’s potential impact on the social, cultural, and economic well-being of the people, and the area’s ecology. This is responsible tourism. Whether you join us by armchair or in person, you are not only having the experience of a lifetime – but you are being smiled upon by your inner idealism. But this is not a new idea.
Responsible Tourism: An Ancient Idea with a New Face
From Creation Myth to Industrialization
The term “responsible tourism” was formally adopted by the UN in 2002, but its history is as ancient as humankind. From the first moment that man looked up at the sky, or down at the ocean, a blade of grass, or a turtle slowly moving across the beach or any other element of the amazing world he was passing through and thought with reverence, “this is god” there was in essence: “responsible tourism.”
Over the millennia cultures thrived or perished predicated in large part on the systems they developed for the respectful use of water, land, and animals. The natural world was understandably considered sacred. As the human population grew and evolved from hunter-gatherer into agricultural, and then into industrial societies, those first nature-centric systems were discounted into oblivion. Until today, we find ourselves in a post-industrial modern world facing multiple socio-environmental crises of unfathomable proportions.
When The Sacred Becomes Dispensable
In the US by the 1940’s, we were losing habitat and species at an alarming rate. Millions of acres of old growth forest (150– 1000-year-old trees) had already been clear-cut, huge dams were permanently destroying entire ecosystems for hundreds of miles up and down the rivers they had altered. The ecological destruction factored heavily on the decline of species including salmon (salmon spawn in old-growth forest streams), destroying the once venerable salmon fishing industry.
In cities like as Pittsburg, Chicago, and New York, factories spewing chemical infused smoke putrefied the air and obscured the sun with thick black soot that settled across cities and towns. In Donora, Pennsylvania, on October 26, 1948 the smoke from the US Steele and Donora Zinc Works covered the town killing 20 in one day and sickening 40% of the 14,000 population.
And the war on wildlife raged with bounties for dead wolves, coyotes, prairie dogs, and more. Progress was killing both humans and wildlife.
The Species Extinction Toll Just in the United States Was Alarming
In North America alone, the Eastern elk (1887), the Labrador duck (1878), the Southern California kit fox (1903), Merriam’s elk (1906), Newfoundland wolf (1911), the passenger pigeon (1914), The Carolina parrot (1918) California golden bear (1922), Southern Rocky Mountain wolf (1935), and the Cascades mountain wolf ( 1940), and more were all brought to extinction by hunting and habitat loss. The Mexican grizzly bear soon followed (1964). Additional bird, elk, bear, and grey wolf species and subspecies too numerous to list were among those extinct or extirpated from most of their range.
The Dawn of a Fresh Awareness
1949: A “New” Land Ethic
1912. Aldo Leopold, was only 24-years old when he shot a wolf and it changed his life.
June 3, 1924. The first federally recognized wilderness area in the United States was set aside thanks to a proposal made by Aldo Leopold. The Forest Service set aside more than 500,000 acres of mountains, rivers, and desert surrounding the Gila River. And the Gila National Wilderness became a model for the preservation of wilderness.
1949. Later Leopold wrote a series of essays in which he outlined a “land ethic.” At its heart the idea is simple: Care about people and land and strengthen the relationship between them. When we see the land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with respect and love. From The Sand County Almanac, 1949.
Exactly the experience of the ancient peoples.
1960: When Loving is Not Enough
In 1962 Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, touched off a new interest in nature among ordinary people. Thousands of us stampeded into whatever natural Eden we could still find, from the Himalaya to the beaches of Bali: we invaded the forests, shores, mountains en-masse without concern for conservation or even methods for dealing with the most basic realities - like trash and human waste. And the incursion has not stopped since.
The desire for nature could be wonderful – mostly. Unfortunately, our unbound search for authentic nature and wildlife experiences also caused destruction as well as unwittingly contributed to the damage or collapse of some indigenous cultures. There had to be a better way. Just enjoying, or even loving something, is not enough to protect it. In other words, it is not “what” we do, but “how” we do it that makes a difference – even as tourists. And sometimes that means guidelines.
1983: The Birth of Eco-Tourism
In 1983 Hector Ceballos-Lascurain, an architect by profession and an influential Mexican conservationist, coined the term “ecotourism” to describe nature and wildlife travel that minimized harm to the environment. In 1993 he modified his definition to, “… provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations.”
In 1996, The World Conservation Union (IUCN), officially adopted his definition. But can simple words and definitions help the planet?
2002 Responsible Tourism: The Cape Town Declaration
Johannesburg, South Africa, 2002. 280 delegates from 28 nations met at a side conference before the UN’s World Summit on Sustainable Development. It was here at The Cape Town Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations that the socio-economic potential of tourism, both locally and worldwide, was formally recognized and codified. The result of this conference was the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism.
Like our Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution of the United States, both of which appear simple at first but prove to be multi-leveled, complex documents, respect is the basis of the Cape Town Declaration of 2002; respect for individuals and the differences between us. All three papers have running through their tenets, an understanding that the choices we make today, determine the quality of our tomorrows, but the Cape Town Declaration adds one more important dimension: respect for the environment.
The Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism acknowledges that there will be as many forms, circumstances, and goals of the tourism industry as individuals and regions are participating. But it put together a set of beautifully simple premises to can be used as the foundation for a better way. It is the founding document for the philosophy we, Les and I, have adopted for Destination: Wildlife, the idea that both international and local tourism industries can be built to enhance human lives and protect the environment and its biodiversity.
From the Himalayas to New York State
Humans are not perfect. Not every decision any of us make is the most altruistic. On the other hand, I firmly believe that every time any one of us builds our business and life on the principles of respect for others, the world changes for the better. (That tattered, old idealism is still alive and gaining strength.)
Ladkha, India The idea of “responsible tourism” is expanding across the globe. In the Himalayas (Hemis High Altitude National Park. Ladakh, India) with help from the Snow Leopard Conservancy, a new kind of tourist industry is developing, and the local people have direct economic benefit. In keeping with their ancient traditions, visitors become immersed in village culture by staying in homes, not hotels owned by outsiders. For the visitor, the experience is more profound, and the economics can benefit the entire host village – but for the endangered snow leopards, as well as Tibetan wolves, the Pallas cat and other species and their habitat that bring the tourists, there is new hope for survival.
In Mozambique where wildlife trafficking and poaching once seemed to be an unstoppable industry, the government is making strides to change things in favor of wildlife tourism. Since 1970 over 70% of the wildlife has been lost, but there is hope, even the embattled Gorongosa National Park is welcoming wildlife tourists again, but it is whale shark tourism that is one of the brightest spots.
The congregation of whale sharks in the waters of Praia do Tofu bring a steady stream of both tourists and scientists from all over the world. And while the effect of these tourists on the marine life is being carefully studied, so far, they seem negligible; but the impact of nature tourism on the economy has been measurably beneficial to both the people and the preservation of wildlife and marine life.
And in our own New York State, where the Division of Tourism, backed by the Governor’s office developed the Watchable Wildlife initiative. This initiative, coupled with water, land and air preservation, is helping small towns and cities like Fort Edward on the Hudson River, regions built on unsustainable industries to develop new, sustainable nature tourism economies. Have you seen a snowy owl? Or witnessed the spring warbler migration? New York is the place you want to be.
So, What is Responsible Wildlife Travel?
A Circle of Life:
Nature & wildlife ▶︎ Tourist dollars ▶︎ Benefits to Local economy ▶︎ Enhanced Community Well-being ▶︎ Wider Local Respect and Care for the Environment ▶︎ Healthier Habitat ▶︎ Biodiversity Encouraged ▶︎ Thriving Nature & Wildlife ▶︎ More tourist dollars.
with fun woven throughout the circle.
It's a Community Affair
Communities are made up of individuals. The first principle of responsible tourism is the participation of the local community: opening businesses, helping decide what resources to use and how to use them, and developing infrastructure to support it all. Participation is empowering.
Where the local people are stakeholders, with direct economic benefit from the thriving local tourism industry, the result is a healthier, more stable population, with higher food security and a higher education level. In other words: responsible tourism has the economic power to bring Prosperity to local people.
We, travelers, benefit too. When the community is involved the atmosphere is usually more welcoming, the service is better, the choices in places to stay or sample local cuisine or experience local culture grow, all in the quest to keep the stream of tourists flowing to the community.
Responsible Tourism and Conservation: If it Pays it Stays
In case it has not been apparent, the economics of responsible nature tourism are good for the ecology and wildlife preservation, too. We humans tend to protect what brings us financial benefit.
It is pretty easy to understand that once the animal is dead, be it a lion, polar bear, or bluefin tuna; it is gone. The proceeds from that hunted or poached animal may feed the family today, but kids are hungry every day. A live animal can bring paying tourists to the community for years to come.
In business, people usually agree on one principle: If it Pays – It Stays. Live animals require healthy habitat: grasslands, wetlands, forests, streams, rivers, and oceans – that means habitat preservation. Multiply that preservation philosophy by entire communities, towns, regions, countries - and it equals a colossal conservation win for the planet.
The Deadly Road to Responsible Tourism
Changing from a natural resource depletion economy to one that preserves it is a dangerous, even deadly road.
There is a lot of money in mining, drilling, forest clear-cutting, and wildlife trafficking. Those industries support entire governments, and some, like the illegal ivory trade, can be traced directly to terrorist groups. That is the situation on the Democratic Republic of Congo side of the Virunga mountains. Rangers and civilians are being killed for their efforts to protect wildlife, and their deaths keep coming. In June 2018 the park was forced to suspend tourism operations - but wildlife tourism is the hope for the region and the people’s work for prosperity and peace will not die.
We stand with Virunga National Park, the oldest in the world, and Chief Warden Emmanuel de Merode, his rangers, and the community and look forward a time when the local people, building a healthy future with a thriving responsible tourism industry are calling the shots – not dying from them. When it is safe to go, we will let you know.
The Calendar is Watching: Take a (Responsible) Holiday
Which brings us back to that reawakened idealism. Tourism can be a force for peace too. Where the community is empowered to direct their own future by participation in an industry that fosters connection, respect, encourages environment and human health, preserves wildlife, there is the promise of a stable future, the seeds of peace. Prosperity and Peace.
Each of us is a caretaker of our world’s collective heritage. We must protect it for future generations - and celebrate it, today. Destination: Wildlife is our contribution.
Join us in protecting and celebrating the world. Take a holiday
Here you will find unique opportunities for you and your family to travel, experience, connect, and have a great time.
Your Holiday = A Triple Benefit
1) When you travel through Destination: Wildlife, you are supporting local economies and families. Our tour companies all give back to the communities they visit, and those local communities are industry stakeholders. Your dollars work toward supporting the local families, educating the kids, strengthening infrastructure, building futures, and impacting directly and indirectly on the preservation of the surrounding nature and wildlife.
2) Destination: Wildlife grows that benefit by dedicating a percentage of every dollar of its income to conservation, too.
3) And you will discover tat your new connection to the world is life changing, every time.
So, go ahead – take a holiday. The clock is ticking; the calendar is watching. Go have the time of your life!
Let’s do good for tomorrow's world today - together.
More About Responsible Tourism
Every story, article, trip report or other information on the Destination: Wildlife website is about responsible tourism.
What is the Value of Nature & Wildlife
By Mark Fowler
STOP-LOOK-LISTEN How My Granddad Taught Me to See Nature
By Les Medley