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Here at Biodiversity Business, we are specialists in conservation tourism. This means a lot to us, but it could easily be confused with other well-meaning terms like ‘sustainable’, ‘responsible’ or ‘eco’ tourism. It can be hard to keep up with the latest catchphrase, and even harder to understand what it really means for nature and the planet. For us, it is simple: our core mission is to help save endangered animals and their habitats. So, here’s a short explanation of what distinguishes conservation tourism from all the others …
Conservation Tourism is different
International travellers are increasingly aware of the impacts they can have on the places they visit – both good and bad. This has led to many companies taking efforts to reduce negative impacts such as pollution, carbon emissions and excluding local people. Some go further by finding ways to make a positive contribution, often by supporting local economies but sometimes by donating to nearby conservation projects or regional initiatives. Whatever name they are given, these activities are good news, but they are limited. They are all based on a traditional tourism model, with improvements. Conservation tourism is different.
In our model, conservation comes first. All our trips are arranged with and through projects that actively protect wildlife and nature. The decision to host visitors is theirs, and we support them in connecting with customers and arranging the trips. On average, 80% of the cost of the trip goes to the project – covering their expenses and contributing to their important work. For many of our project partners, this income is critical to sustaining their conservation activities.
Conservation Tourism is Nature Positive
Of course, we also follow all the best practices in sustainability – minimising our negative impacts on the environment. But even so, we recognise that some impacts are unavoidable. An occasional grant to a conservation charity or collecting spare change from guests can’t balance that out. It takes an integral connection with the conservation work for the positive impacts to outweigh the negative. And that is what we are committed to – a net positive impact on nature, otherwise known as Nature Positive Tourism.
To be sure that the projects we visit are having a real impact, we are very careful when we choose who we work with (and who you could be visiting). We make sure that the key people on the project are conservation professionals with relevant training and experience and a deep commitment to the cause. We also ensure that the projects follow a scientific approach, reliably recording and analysing key data and reporting on their results. And we consider their relationship with the community as well – local people have to be involved at all stages of the project and benefit significantly from the presence of the project.
Conservation Tourism in practice
The Perhentian Turtle Project in Malaysia is a great example of how conservation tourism can work. Set up to monitor and protect the turtle population around these idyllic islands, volunteering has always been crucial to their work. To understand how the animals use different areas and resources, the project keeps a database of individual turtles, tracking where and when they are seen. This relies on identifying individuals from photos of the unique scale patterns on their faces. Getting these photos takes a lot of time, as does entering them into the database, which would be a big expense if conducted by paid staff. It is only by hosting volunteers that they can gather all this vital data, while also making money to pay local staff to assist at the local turtle hatchery and co-ordinate the programme. Meanwhile, the volunteers have an amazing experience on the kayak surveys and beach patrols, and local shops and restaurants benefit from catering for them. The community, the visitors and the turtles all win!
But conservation tourism isn’t just about volunteering and long stays. Our three-day Wild Elephant Safari is all about leisure, and unforgettable wildlife experiences. The trip is based at the Ulu Muda Field Research Centre, which not only hosts tourists but also academic researchers. The centre collaborates with conservation professionals on ecological studies of the elephant population and issues like local fishing practices and plain-pouched hornbill distribution. Guests can take part in activities from jungle treks to river cruises, with caving and rafting among the more adventurous options. Meanwhile, the price of the trip enables on-the-ground conservation work, such as the MEME (Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants) project’s research on elephant behaviour and ecology.
Make your travel nature-positive
Combining tourism and conservation in this way is fundamental to what Biodiversity Business does, and why we do it. If you travel with us, whether you are volunteering at a Sun Bear Rescue Centre or going on a Sumatran Orangutan Trek, you are an important part of a practical and effective conservation project. Because when we go to experience the wonders of nature, we want to do more than ‘leave no trace’. We want to leave these precious places better protected and more resilient than before we came. And that is what conservation tourism is all about.