I, like a lot of people have a desire to explore the world. To immerse myself in rich experiences and gain firsthand understandings of cultures and natural wonders. I also have a passion to make a difference to our Earth through sustainability and conservation research. When combining the two, I developed a passion for “ecotourism”. It was this passion that drove me to choose to research tourism as a potential conservation tool for my Ph.D. and why I aspire to continue researching ecotourism throughout my career.
Defining ecotourism is actually a reasonably difficult task (due to the multiple definitions used throughout the literature), but in general, it is tourism that has a minimal impact on wildlife and/or the natural environment. Ecotourism is growing in popularity, mainly due to the increasingly popularity of the travel industry in general. People love to travel and due to the current price of flights and accommodation (such as Air BnB), travel is particularly accessible and therefore people are spending huge amounts of money on their getaways. This popularity will not decrease in the foreseeable future and this is why I want to capitalise on the success of the tourism industry and use it to better our planet. Ecotourism has already achieved great successes (such as making species be worth more alive than dead) but, as with most things, there is always room for improvement.
Often, animal tourism operators do not pay for the animal they are using for the tourist attractions. What I mean by this is, the animals are wild, meaning that they fend for themselves and therefore the operators do not pay for vet bills, or for food, or for anything else. For example, a dolphin sightseeing tour makes profit off of the wild dolphins but as they are wild (thankfully) they actually do not have a responsibility for those animals. Therefore, I believe tourism operators have an obligation to give back to the species by promoting the animal’s conservation (after all they are making a living off this animal!).
In an ideal world, wild animals would be able to go about their days, in the ‘true’ wild. Free of people invading their space and getting close to take photos. However, this is not achievable. People desire to be close to animals and if such tourism experiences were not conducted, people would just get close to the animals on their own (which would pose threats to both the animals and people). Therefore, the best way to look after our wild animals is to control the types of tourism that occurs and ensure that the tourism experiences are the best they can be. Many countries rely on tourism, but that does not mean they rely on harmful or unethical tourism. My passion and what I hope to achieve through my research is to determine the best ways to promote conservation through tourism experiences and how to educate tourism operators to conduct the best types of tourism they can.
Ecotourism is not only beneficial for the wildlife, often ecotourism experiences are extremely authentic and provide the truest ‘wild wildlife’ experience we could have. Therefore, consider which types of tourism experiences you participate in. Your travel choices make a difference. In Australia we have certified ecotourism experiences so tourists can trust they are taking part in an ecofriendly experience (http://www.ecotourism.org.au/). If you can’t research which tourism experiences are ethical, trust your gut- if the animals appear to be distressed, or drugged, or in an extremely inappropriate enclosure, reconsider your need to participate.
Never stop travelling, never stop wanting to learn and immerse yourself in our natural world. Just be mindful of how you do it.