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Citizen Adventure Goes to Washington

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Millennium Challenge Corporation highlights Namibia successes in the Community-Based Conservation & Adventure Travel: Partnering to Protect Wildlife, Prevent Poaching & Empower People panel discussion. Photo © Rachel Kramer / WWF-US
Community-Based Conservation & Adventure Travel: Partnering to Protect Wildlife, Prevent Poaching & Empower People — A Panel discussion with Chris Weaver, Shubash Lohani, Todd Shelton, the Millennium Challenge Corporation and Adventure Travel Trade Association. Photo © Rachel Kramer / WWF-US
Senator Chris Coons (DE) with Margaret Ackerley, Todd Shelton and Will Gartshore before Sen. Coons’ remarks on the End Wildlife Trafficking bill. Photo © Rachel Kramer / WWF-US
Senator Coons attests to wildlife’s worth on World Wildlife Day. Photo © Rachel Kramer / WWF-US
Margaret Ackerley delivers remarks in celebration of World Wildlife Day. Photo © Rachel Kramer / WWF-US
Phurba Lhendup of WWF-Bhutan remarks on the importance of wildlife to his country. Photo © Rachel Kramer / WWF-US
Kenyan Deputy Chief of Mission, David Gacheru with Todd Shelton and Will Gartshore. Photo © Rachel Kramer / WWF-US

The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) was invited last week to be part of an important discussion around World Wildlife Day, with the theme in 2016 being “The Future of Wildlife Is In Our Hands”. WWF hosted a day long forum with participants from the US State Department, World Bank, IFC, National Geographic, REI, GSTC, Solimar International and the Tourism Council of Bhutan among others. The goal of the event was to connect government, NGOs, multilateral funding organizations and the private sector to talk about using tourism as a tool to protect wildlife.

“Adventure tourism shows how conservation travel can become a model for long-term tourism.”

With adventure tourism having a focus on nature and culture, the ATTA was an ideal representative from the tourism industry to discuss concepts and models. ATTA members must sign and agree to ATTA’s values statement and within it members are asked to commit to the GSTC’s Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria including a statement that says “Wildlife species are not harvested, consumed, displayed, sold, or traded, except as part of a regulated activity that ensures that their utilization is sustainable, and in compliance with local to international laws”.  Adventure tourism shows how conservation travel can become a model for long-term tourism.

Community based conservation was a primary focus of the event with Namibia serving as one of the best examples of a country-wide effort.  What has become clear is that community based conservation through tourism is a successful but highly complex and fragile scenario. The ‘magic triangle’ of collaboration between government, private sector and NGOs is key to success. Any one of the sectors on their own will likely not succeed.

WWF Namibia has an amazing community-based tourism track record with the person in charge, Chris Weaver, having been running the program there for 23 years. This long-term commitment is critical and short term programs and thinking simply are insufficient due to the need for time to implement, fine-tune and clearly prove the models.

Other attendees such as Solimar International spent time describing the assessment work done with WWF’s conservation travel scorecard. Important themes for successful conservation travel include: enabling environmental policies, clear strategies that link tourism to conservation, incentives for private sector to work with joint ventures, cultivating the right people and partnerships to champion conservation travel.

The US State Department made a compelling case for their interest in the reduction of poaching and trafficking of high-value wildlife products – they are often funding terrorist networks who are trafficking these items along with humans and drugs.  A combination of law enforcement and reducing demand are paramount for the Department. Community-based conservation, then, is one of the tools used to fight this insidious network of criminals. Secretary of Interior, Sally Jewell, highlighted progress in the Obama Administration’s fight against illegal trade in wildlife in a press release last week.

The World Bank described in economic terms how nature-based tourism is in increasing demand while in tandem, the supply of such opportunities is notably decreasing. The World Bank for the first time in nearly two decades is having a revival of sorts in interest in tourism as an economic driver that fits their mandate of eliminating extreme poverty (by 2030) and promoting shared prosperity.

“…working together to protect wildlife, grow local economies and have them work seamlessly together will require everyone to play a part”

The outcome from the day of talks and discussions made it quite clear that all parties working together to protect wildlife, grow local economies and have them work seamlessly together will require everyone to play a part. That evening saw us join a crowd of several hundred in the Benjamin Franklin room of the State Department where we heard from Catherine Novelli, Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, on the government’s commitment to protecting wildlife. Following the presentation as dusk fell, we went outside to see wildlife images from the acclaimed film “Racing Extinction” projected from the back of a Tesla onto the State Department walls.

The George Washington University hosted the group the following day and I joined a panel that included Under Secretary Novelli, Jon Miceler from WWF and Urvashi Narain from The World Bank.  We spoke again on the subject of conservation and tourism to a larger audience of industry representatives, governmental officials and students.

As a finale we finished the day’s work by going to the Russell Senate building where I joined three other representatives of WWF, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and the World Bank. Staffers from different senators’ offices came to hear the panel describe how powerful MCC’s funds were in Namibia and how the outcomes of protecting wildlife and reducing poverty were very clear. We all thanked the attendees from the Senators’ offices and the American taxpayer for contributing to such worthy causes.

Now it is time for us to act and contribute; ATTA has taken a pledge to support responsible travel and work with the industry to educate travelers to identify illegal wildlife products and influence buying behavior. Our commitments are below:

  • ATTA will lend the voice of its membership to speak as a collective around this critical issue by engaging business, governments, and NGOs, and foster an ongoing public dialogue in an effort to change consumer behavior and work to mainstream the fight against wildlife crime within sustainable adventure travel.
  • ATTA will build into its AdventureEDU Guide Training curriculum, designed to meet the industry agreed upon Adventure Travel Guide Qualification & Performance Standard, guidelines for how to educate travelers during their travels on ensuring their purchases do not inadvertently contribute to the illegal wildlife trade.
  • ATTA will distribute creative messaging to adventure travelers directly and through the ATTA community with the goal to influence traveler buying behavior and dissuade inadvertent participation in the trade of illegal wildlife products.

Travel done right is a complicated business.  It’s my view that there are no success stories in sustainable tourism, only succeeding stories.  It’s an ongoing process with no end in sight. Considering the ever connected world in which we live, the two days of conversations linking all the critical pieces together were very important and I was honored to represent the travel industry’s private sector, trying to speak with what I imagined to be the voice of the ATTA community saying “If tourism is to be done, let’s do it right. Go big. Be bold!”

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