Over the years, travel and tourism has evolved into one of the world's largest and fastest-growing industries, with a global economic contribution of nearly $8 trillion. And, wildlife tourism is increasing as an important travel niche.
When conducted responsibly, wildlife tourism can be a powerful tool that many countries can leverage to grow and diversify their economies, while protecting their biodiversity and meeting their sustainable development goals. It is also a way to engage tourists in wildlife conservation and inject money into the local communities located closest to the wildlife.
“Wildlife tourism, when done properly, can offer long-term economic benefits to larger numbers of people,” said Irene Lane, founder of Greenloons, an America-based ecotourism travel company. “One of the best things that people can do is to engage with responsible, eco-certified wildlife tours that help provide local economic incentives for conservation.”
Lane started Greenloons in May of 2010 while completing her Certificate in Sustainable Tourism Management, after realizing that there was a lot of misinformation about ecotourism, and very little transparency about the industry.
She wanted to create a website that would present facts about ecotourism, supply a forum for travelers to share their experiences, and allow consumers to decide for themselves what’s best. But, she wanted to go a step further and offer people safe, educational and fun vacation packages, provided by certified or accredited tour operators.
Lane also explained some of the negative impacts of wildlife tourism: Habitat degradation or even outright destruction; noise disturbances that affect nesting/mating seasons; feeding or chasing for animal attraction, trophy hunting, trafficking, and more.
Greenloons is committed to combatting some of the biggest issues associated with wildlife tourism by connecting travelers with meaningful and unique vacations around the world, with an eye for sustainability.
Eco-certified tours in over 45 destinations
The company offers eco-certified tours (mostly custom, but there are some group departures) to over 45 destinations, with every continent being represented. They work with eco-certified guiding companies and ecotourism accommodation owners that have been independently verified as focusing on the three tenants of social empowerment, economic viability, and environmental responsibility.
Armed with years of experience, Lane offered some advice for travelers who want to take part in wildlife tourism responsibly. First, be wary of tour operators that offer “guaranteed” wildlife sightings. Second, show interest in in-country national park experiences and not just the “tortoises of Galapagos” or “Big 5 of Africa.” And third, search for community-based conservation experiences where local communities own and manage the tourist operations on their lands.
She also suggested for travelers to seek out eco-certified companies. And when that is not available, ask questions such as: What is the background and training of the owners and drivers/guides? What is the company’s philosophy of responsible wildlife tourism? What is the priority – safety or seeing wildlife? What kinds of information and instruction are you given prior to and during your trip? And does the company donate a portion of its profits towards local conservation and associated human welfare projects?
“This is where reputable and accredited eco-certification standards are so crucial for the development and maintenance of responsible wildlife activities,” said Lane.
“For example, Greenloons partners with lodge owners who have worked in tandem with local (indigenous) communities so that they are equal stakeholders in the effort. We work with partners whose construction efforts do not disturb habitats, and when that’s not possible, they work to restore habitats in a way that is transparent and accountable.”
The clients, the services
Greenloon typically caters to two typical client profiles: the mature Baby Boomer and the trendy family. While both segments are well-traveled, the mature Baby Boomers value the opportunity to engage in a variety of educational, cultural, and culinary activities; while trendy families want to explore an already-visited destination with their children in a new way that spotlights nature, wildlife and culture.
Greenloons provides three services to its clients:
- Green Vacation Booking Services: They provide ecotourism information, search and reservation capabilities to individual clients with no hidden fees.
- Bespoke Group Custom Tours: Whether it’s a college study abroad tour, culinary experience, or organizational retreat, they work with the client to select the ideal location, accommodation, and activities that meet their needs and preferences.
- Sustainability Consulting Services: They offer a variety of consulting services for tourism business owners, including the calculation of return on investment (ROI), psychographic analysis of the American eco-traveler, certification audits, and community development strategies.
Lane said: “It’s more than just providing an annual monetary donation to a local conservation effort. It’s working alongside wildlife conservation efforts by providing primary research data, and ensuring that clients receive high-quality information from knowledgeable and licensed guides. Activities are offered to small groups that maintain a good distance from wildlife, walk on established paths, and are led by experienced guides.”
The industry is dependent on having healthy animals to observe and maintaining the habitats that support them. And to that end, Greenloons and other ecotourism companies like it, are paving the way for the industry to continue to grow and thrive.