Increased human activities, such as logging, clearing land for agriculture, hunting and gathering fuelwood, are degrading both protected areas and the land surrounding them. As a non-extractive activity, ecotourism offers a sustainable way of using these areas and an opportunity to promote sustainable social and economic development. For example, by taking tourists to a country to see its wildlife, not only are a range of local employment opportunities created, but the association between protecting wildlife and a healthier economy indicates to both local people and national government alike the importance of conservation, and the great potential of national parks and wildlife reserves.Sustainable and Responsible TourismTourism is often described as the world’s “biggest industry” on the basis of its contribution to global GDP, the number of jobs it generates and the number of client it serves, wildlife holidays is one of the fastest growing components of it. The rate at which tourism continues to grow presents both opportunities and threats for biodiversity conservation. Over the past three decades, major losses of virtually every kind of natural habitat and the decline and extinction of species have occurred. Many of the ecosystems in decline provide attractions for tourism development. These include coastal and marine areas, coral reefs, mountains, and rainforests, which support a wide range of activities, including beach tourism, skiing, trekking, and wildlife viewing. An assessment and reduction of negative impacts is complex since there are so many countries and operators involved, and such a wide range of tourist requirements on the one hand, and local needs on the other. There is also a need to appreciate the great many positive benefits that tourism can bring, particularly to developing countries and to local/rural communities, and for tour operators to focus on, and maximise these.Increased human activities, such as logging, clearing land for agriculture, hunting and gathering fuelwood, are degrading both protected areas and the land surrounding them. As a non-extractive activity, ecotourism offers a sustainable way of using these areas and an opportunity to promote sustainable social and economic development. For example, by taking tourists to a country to see its wildlife, not only are a range of local employment opportunities created, but the association between protecting wildlife and a healthier economy indicates to both local people and national government alike the importance of conservation, and the great potential of national parks and wildlife reserves.In many fragile ecosystems, tourism has been growing and increasingly linked to the unique natural environments and biodiversity found in these areas. Maintaining an un-spoilt and attractive destination contributes greatly to visitor satisfaction, conserves the area’s biodiversity and contributes to the well being of local people.There is a need for all of us working in the industry to ensure that such positive aspects of tourism are developed, and all negative aspects reduced or avoided. By developing a “responsible” approach to tourism which contributes to the long-term future of a country’s wildlife, people, culture and heritage we believe, in our small way, that we are helping the cause of ‘sustainable’ tourism. Today’s tour operators are increasingly recognising the need for greater transparency and accountability which can be aided by the provision of a company statement or policy on Responsible Tourism. To date, there are no universal standards for a Responsible Tourism Policy although there are several bodies (including the United Nations, World Travel Organisation, ResponsibleTravel , Nature.org, Ecotourism and Ecotour) which offer advice to travellers and guidelines for tour operators. It is ultimately up to each individual tour operator to design a Responsible Tourism Policy of their own that sets attainable standards for the company and clients alike.Worldwide Birding Tours, along with other and notable wildlife tour operators, regards the development of a detailed Responsible Tourism Policy by every tour operator as an essential step forward. You will find below, firstly Worldwide Birding tour’s recommendations to you, our customer (the Tourist!) and secondly, our policy.
Your desire to travel (whether or not on a Worldwide Birding Tour) in order to visit overseas national parks and reserves is crucial to the survival of the world’s wildlife. It is not otherwise, however, an altogether environmentally friendly pastime. Please consider the following measures; they will help to minimise damage caused by your travels, and may also provide a benefit to your host country:
Support ‘Climate Care’
Air travel is one of the major causes of global warming and most holidays involve flying. We encourage you to negate your share of the carbon dioxide emissions created by your international and domestic flights by making a small donation to Climate Care (www.co2.org). Climate Care offer you the chance to off-set your flights’ damaging contribution to global warming by investing, on your behalf, in a range of renewable energy, energy efficient and rainforest reforestation projects that reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The reduction achieved through your financial contribution to these projects has been carefully calculated to match your share of the carbon dioxide emissions from the flights used on your holiday, making your air journey carbon neutral. Alternatively, you might choose to contribute to a similar scheme operated by the charity Friends of Conservation. They offer an easy, on-line donor scheme to off-set carbon emissions, guaranteeing that 100% of the donation is passed to one of a choice of beneficiaries/projects. Just log on to www.friendsofconservation.org.uk/min.
Watch and photograph wildlife with minimum obtrusion, and respect the viewing instructions of your guide and tour leader. Remember that all wildlife sightings are a bonus; none are guaranteed! The removal of any specimen – whether plant, seed or animal – from its natural environment is not acceptable.
A wildlife holiday with Worldwide Birding Tours is, first and foremost, an opportunity to experience important wildlife habitats, not a species shopping trip with list in hand! If you don’t see your target species, your visit (through park fees, local employment opportunities, etc.) will nonetheless be supporting the preservation of the habitat on which it relies, and further, you will have a very good reason for a return visit!
Remember, our so-called ‘high standards’ have come largely at the expense of our environment. If you cannot accept and enjoy the different standards and cultures of less affluent countries, you should stay at home! Before travelling, read widely to familiarise yourself with your destination’s history, background, culture, customs, standards, etc. The well prepared tourist is likely to have a fulfilling holiday, with minimal problems and regrets.
Wherever possible Worldwide Birding Tours aims to use small, locally owned and managed accommodation (ideally locally constructed in a traditional style) serving traditional home-cooked meals. Sometimes such accommodation cannot match the multi-national comfort offered by larger hotels. However, such smaller hotels do both minimise environmental impact as well as support local communities, and their styles, culture and traditions. In choosing your holiday destination, please do consider your accommodation in terms of minimising environmental impact.
Dress practically and conservatively, paying particular attention to observe local dress codes to ensure that you are not offending your host country’s cultural or religious beliefs (particularly in Hindu and Muslim countries). If in doubt, cover up (you’ll also avoid sunburn, insect bites and consequential ill-health!).
Your Local Guide
Please remember to use your local guide and driver to the full. You are paying for them (and perhaps tipping them if they are good); allow them to shine and revel in enthusing about their country. Get to known them, ask them questions, show your appreciation, and make their job fun. We reticent Europeans are not always the best at this; make an effort and you will get value for money from your holiday… and perhaps a lifelong friend!
Above all, by showing your interest in, and your appreciation of, your host country’s wildlife and natural environment to your guide(s), driver and other local staff, you are actively developing in them a pride, and interest in their environment which bodes well for its future preservation by these local people and, ultimately, their governments.
Be sensitive to local conditions, laws and customs, asking your local guide if in doubt. Seek advice and their permission before photographing local people, thus showing respect and awareness of another’s culture and beliefs. At all times avoid the obvious display of cameras and other expensive items; you’ll find more in common with the locals, and avoid becoming the victim of theft.
Do not enter restricted, dangerous, sensitive or private areas. If in doubt, seek your guide’s advice.
Be selective. Buy locally made goods only, thus encouraging a pride in traditional culture and crafts and discouraging the import of other goods. Avoid souvenirs sold to the detriment of wildlife and the environment (shells, corals, skins, ivory, hardwood products, etc). Ensure a fair price when bargaining, taking advice from your guide. Bargain hard by all means, to maintain respect, but above all retain a measure of common sense and fairness; remember that, ultimately, it is your salesman’s family that is going to be very much more disadvantaged by a low price than you (or yours).
Handouts of sweets, pens, etc. undermine pride and cause tooth decay. Donate instead to schools, or local conservation or charitable organisations, details of which we can advise.
Don’t leave litter. Consider very carefully what you really need to take on your holiday before you travel and take care to leave at home all unnecessary packaging and wrapping. Take home with you all your non-biodegradable rubbish (particularly plastics, used batteries, etc.) where it can be more reliably disposed of. Carry a lighter or matches to burn all toilet tissue and other paper waste created during your holiday.
Choose Environmentally Friendly Travel Products
Use environmentally friendly shampoos, detergents, etc., and keep them out of the rivers!
Conserve Energy and Water
Conserve energy by turning off lights, air-conditioning, heating, etc. when not required. Minimise your requirement for clean towels, napkins and sheets. In many countries water is very limited; minimum usage conserves a precious resource. If possible purify water with purification tablets rather than by boiling.
Leave only friendship behind in the countries you visit. Communicate with local people at all times in a friendly manner, and make an effort to learn a few words and phrases of the local language. Accept local foods or drinks when offered them, and indicate to your hosts your interest in, and support for, their wildlife, landscapes and culture to promote their value both to local people and ultimately their governments..
Support Local and International Wildlife Conservation Organisations
Read widely about your destination’s wildlife and conservation priorities before your departure. Such wildlife conservation organisations as BirdLife International, the Oriental Bird Club, WWF, and the Environmental Investigation Agency (see addresses at end of text, or their websites) are worth contacting, or even joining. More importantly, at the end of your holiday, become an overseas member of your host country’s bird club or conservation organisation, and continue your interest in that country.
In virtually every country through which you choose to travel you will find a practice or policy (perhaps several!) which offends you. It might be a country’s abuse of human rights, nuclear testing programme, whaling, slavery, trade in endangered species, bull-fighting, the slaughter of migrant birds, deforestation, or fox-hunting. The chances are that they offend us too; but were we to boycott travel to that particular country (as you might wish us to), we would, frankly, have no destinations left to offer, such have been the demands upon us over the years! Instead, we choose to make no such judgements; it is you, after all, who make your own choice of holiday destination. Further, in all these countries, live many people who share your concerns. They would much rather you visit; to lend them support, to understand more fully the problem, and to protest more rationally, on your return home, to the offending nation’s government, tourist board, embassy, etc.
Your Help and Suggestions Needed
On returning from your travels, do let us hear your thoughts on any environmental, cultural or economic impacts of the trip that you think we should know about, also of any practices that you observed and considered beneficial, or otherwise, to a country’s wildlife.
Should you have other ideas that would enhance this code of conduct, we should welcome them..
- To focus, particularly, on visiting national parks, wildlife reserves and wilderness areas which, by and large, do not benefit from the rewards of mass market tourism.
- To minimise environmental damage by exploring in small groups and, as much as possible, on foot.
- To use, wherever possible, local guides… and to train them to the highest standards expected by modern-day wildlife tourists.
- To involve local communities wherever possible in our operations, and to ensure that they receive a fair share of the benefits of wildlife tourism.
- To use, wherever possible, small, locally owned, family-run accommodation, and similarly owned and operated specialist local agents/ground operators with a wildlife/conservation bias and sympathy.
- To purchase, where possible, local produce.
- To develop and commit to long-term plans to visit rural areas and support the local communities.
- To contribute financially or materially to projects local to the areas that we visit (ie. schools, hospitals, etc.)
- To educate the local people on the importance and long-term benefits of wildlife tourism.
- To keep our clients well-informed on aspects of wildlife management and conservation.
- To work with European and overseas conservation organisations to develop new wildlife tourism destinations.
- To run our Spanish office in as energy-efficient a manner as possible.
- It is our aim to encourage and develop a passion for wildlife and wild places amongst our customers (many of whom are novices, trying this form of holiday for the first time), and the conservation of them.
Travelling together as friends