The theme of this year’s Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS), held earlier this month in Ireland, was “The Economics of Adventure,” which was less about profit margins and more about how we put a value on what we do as an industry.
This came into focus during a plenary session during the Summit when the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) illustrated that to balance the dwindling supply of healthy wildlife and nature around the world and the growing demand to travel to see what’s left, Adventure Travel must adopt the principles of Conservation Travel – sustainable travel that protects nature. During the plenary, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) announced a partnership with WWF to advance the concept of Conservation Travel and to work strategically together at the intersection of conservation (of wildlife, landscape, and natural and cultural resources) and adventure travel for the benefit of both the planet and profit.
WATCH: Conservation Travel Plenary Session from ATWS 2014
Join the Working Group
Industry professionals interested in Conservation Travel are encouraged to contact the ATTA for more information ([email protected]) on how they can get involved in the Conservation Travel initiative and be at the vanguard of this exciting effort.
While the ATWS plenary session on Conservation Travel brought conservation leaders to the stage to illustrate the potential for adventure travel to make positive economic waves in destination communities, a forum discussion the next day gave delegates the chance to brainstorm how to turn theoretical approaches to Conservation Travel into real on-the-ground practices. After hearing examples of Conservation Travel initiatives from TOFTigers’ Julian Matthews, Encounters Asia’s Amit Sankhala and Natural Habitat’s Ted Martens, participants formed working groups to outline their best ideas for how to move forward with implementing and promoting Conservation Travel in the industry.
The goals of the ATTA / WWF Conservation Travel partnership are easy to remember as the three “I”s:
- IMPACT the industry by incentivizing conservation and prioritizing wildlife
- INFLUENCE the traveler by engaging them in conservation before, during, and after their journey, and
- INVEST in conservation priorities
WWF’s Jeffrey Parrish moderated the forum and asked each group to share both their current actions and their future aspirations for each of the three “I”s.
Ideas for IMPACT include creating a toolbox of conservation best practices for working with giving local communities who are able to benefit while living alongside wildlife, creating itineraries that reward good conservation practices by lodges and communities, and developing trips / highlighting regions with high conservation benefit returns.
For INFLUENCE, ideas revolve around educational campaigns that focus on the key natural assets in a destination that are threatened and building in advantages and incentives to travelers for engaging in conservation campaigns with local or global conservation organizations.
INVEST ideas include fundraising activities like micro-donation projects, scholarship funds for local communities to learn more about conservation, and developing an industry-wide granting alliance to put more funds collectively toward the greatest conservation destination priorities in need.
“With actions and ideas like these, Adventure Travel can transform not just the traveler, but also the landscapes, wildlife, and local communities at a destination,” says WWF’s Jeffrey Parrish, “It’s not something good to do – it’s something we must do: Sustain the places and peoples that sustain the very profitability of the adventure travel industry itself.”
The Conservation Travel partnership between ATTA and WWF is designed to accelerate how the industry and ATTA members can protect and profit from bigger and better nature conservation. Conservation Travel as a priority initiative for ATTA and its members started at the Summit with talking and will quickly move to walking. Both organizations have made it clear that tour operators and destinations are invited to work together with the ATTA & WWF on making the ideas of Conservation Travel fundamental realities of the industry.
“WWF’s partnership with ATTA offers a once-in-a career opportunity to leverage the collective experience and resources of over one thousand organizations at scale,” says WWF’s Jim Sano. “It may sound suspect that we can make money restoring the earth, but it is true and it may be the only way it will happen. As my friend Paul Hawken once observed, ‘There is an economy of degradation…and there is a restorative economy, nascent but real, whose potential size is as great as our entire industry.’”
The announcement of the partnership was the kick-off event for this long-term strategy. The intensive forum discussions at the Adventure Travel World Summit were the first of a steady succession of steps toward synergizing conservation and adventure travel, with the power to change tourism as we know it. “You’re the early adopters.” Jim Sano told the ATWS audience regarding why ATTA was chosen as WWF’s partner for this project. Delegates to the ATWS represent an industry that is willing to reconsider its priorities and reshuffle its definition when sustainability, in all its forms, is on the line.
WATCH: Interview with WWF’s Jefe Parrish on Conservation Travel partnership with ATTA