Local tourism and conservation. Perhaps conservation charities should stick to marketing?

Conservations Dirty Secrets, Oliver Steeds’ recent documentary for Channel 4 Dispatches, certainly provoked reaction and, whatever else you may say about the production, it definitely provides food for thought. If you have not seen it yet, I suggest you do. You can watch it here.

We were shown how, while global conservation charities have been very successful at getting us emotionally attached to the worlds prettier animals and raising funds, their actual conservation theories and methods leave plenty to be desired. Fast forward to the end, and the huge potential for go local tourism to be an engine of conservation is made very clear.

Give local communities a real value and ownership in protecting their ecosystem, and of course they will. Alienate them and treat them as part of the problem, and you just end up with more problems. Nothing new in this theory, but perhaps finally it is starting to sink in. Now if only go local travel can get off the ground in a more widespread fashion.

This is actually where, rather than being a source of problems, global conservation charities like WWF and Conservation International could be an even greater source for good.

The conservation industrys use of the cute and cuddly big-ticket animals -pandas, tigers, elephants etc – to raise awareness and funding is actually very important. Without an emotional attachment with nature, who would ever be motivated to go see it? So the very success of local community conservation-through-tourism projects hinges largely on the continued ability of charities and the media to pull at our heartstrings. This in turn gives corporate funding of charities a place.

However, instead of us then also reaching for our wallets and throwing it at the same charities, perhaps we should be spending it on visiting these animals ourselves, or at least on donating directly to more small scale, grass roots, bottom up conservation initiatives.

It is very easy to hit out at the big guys and point the finger at them for our collective failures. While the programme was leading (or mis-leading?) at times, questioning the effectiveness of global conservation charities like WWF and Conservation International is extremely important. It is great to see WWF embracing that too see their open discussion after the programme.

I hope this leads to some soul searching among them all, and a refocusing of energies on where they can (and should) be most effective.

Perhaps that is in marketing the wonders of this world, and then leaving the path clear for locally empowered communities to do the rest?

Certainly that was our thinking having got embroiled in conservation efforts in Ecuador, and has shaped the way we workin partnership with as many other organisations as we can. What do you think?

Further reading:

Oliver Steeds blog about the documentary.

WWF UK CEO David Nussbaum shares his thoughts on the issues.

More debates about the role of tourism in sustainable development

One Reply to “Local tourism and conservation. Perhaps conservation charities should stick to marketing?”

  1. I can’t speak for other conservation organizations, but I have seen WWF projects across the world and know for a fact that they fund, develop and even lead a huge amount of local conservation projects. At no point in the documentary was it shown that WWF had done a bad job with any of these projects, and why is that? Because they haven’t. Yes, it is often beneficial to visit these animals ourselves (although some tourism operatives are less than reputable and often lead to more harm than good to the animals). Yes, sometimes (but certainly not always) it’s good to fund some of the grass roots initiatives. But when we give money to big conservation organisations we’re not only funding their future marketing and ensuring their further income, but ensuing that this income goes to well-researched conservation projects that produce real, tangible results.

Comments are closed.