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Conservation Travel Speaks Globally: Ecotourism

USA - Seattle, WA | Mar 30 2013 | (23:06:32 - EDT)

Profound personal experiences with endangered environments and cultures can be a powerful motivator for change and the demand for conservation travel is growing globally.

Kurt Kutay, founding president and CEO of Seattle-based eco tourism company Wildland Adventures, recalls a family on a tour in Africa that was so moved by encounters with a traditional Maasai community that the experience literally set their lives on an unexpected course. Upon returning to the United States, they launched a fundraising campaign and returned as a family to help build a school in the Maasai village.

“This is the reason I started Wildland Adventures,” says Kutay. “My background was with the National Parks Service and l loved conservation and I loved travel and exploring new environments and cultures.”

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In the 1980s, the destruction of rainforests in Latin America was to due to the high demand for cattle farms to fuel the fast food industry. This prompted Kutay to demonstrate that there was a more sustainable option for this developing region; he wanted to show people that ecotourism could not only provide revenue for these developing countries, but also bring awareness and provide solutions for the environmental issues at hand. Kutay started leading adventure trips to Costa Rica with the hope that sustainable travel could be the answer to these problems. Twenty five years later, though global issues may have evolved and changed, the need for conservation-minded, philanthropic tourism is just as great.

Wildland Adventures brings its customers to some of the planet’s most stunning destinations while at the same time connecting them with places and people in need, whether it’s tiger habitat conservation in India or a Maasai school building project in Kenya. And although not all guests return from a trip determined to launch their own non-profit fundraising initiative, it often results in a personal shift in their behavior, such as a decision not to buy that time share condo in Mexico and instead spend discretionary dollars on more philanthropic endeavors.

“We want our customers to become connected to a destination in a deep way. It’s those people-to-people connections with local communities that keeps me motivated,” says Kutay.

Beyond volunteer opportunities that are built into many of Wildland Adventures’ trips, guests can support conservation efforts through the Travelers Conservation Trust, (TCT) a non-profit foundation launched by Kutay back in 1986. From its inception, TCT has worked to form and strengthen links between environmentally concerned travelers and host-country grassroots conservation groups.

Other examples of conservation travel experiences around the world include:

Conservation travel to the Great Bear Rainforest and British Columbia’s West Coast:

Kevin Smith, captain of the SV Maple Leaf and co-owner of Maple Leaf Adventures, grew up on the West Coast of British Columbia, exploring islands and inlets and learning about native flora and fauna. In 2001, after working as a BC park ranger and taking part in strategic land and marine use agreements for the Great Bear Rainforest, Smith pounced on the opportunity to purchase Maple Leaf Adventures. It was an ideal opportunity to combine his marine skills and natural history knowledge with a tourism venture that would enable him to share with guests one of the world’s most ecologically and culturally rich places. An advocate of programs like “1 % for the Planet”, Smith has been instrumental in raising awareness about a coastline internationally recognized for its biodiversity and beauty but one that remains a conservation work in progress and at risk from potential oil spills if the Northern Gateway pipeline is approved.

“Ecotourism companies in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, including Maple Leaf Adventures, have been important to our conservation efforts like our successful grizzly bear trophy hunt campaigns, by creating general awareness about the area, and supporting our scientific research,” says Chris Genovali, executive director of the non-profit Raincoast Conservation Foundation. “They inspire people to explore the Great Bear Rainforest, to experience it for themselves and to value it. Conversely, our work protects their area of business and enriches their tours with our research findings.”

And with the recent international focus and debates on the Northern Gateway pipeline, Smith is fielding more requests than ever for his soft footprint journeys to the Great Bear Rainforest, where guests can ‘bear witness’ themselves of the rugged coastlines, narrow waterways and spectacular natural environment that should be protected.

“It is a benefit of the debate that the Great Bear is a hot destination right now,” says Smith. “But it is a debate I truly wish we were not having. What we can do is show our guests what is truly at risk, to make it real and ask for their help.”

Conservation travel to Chilean Patagonia

When Warren Adams, CEO and founder of Patagonia Sur, LLC, first traveled to the Chilean Patagonia with his wife more than 10 years ago, he was struck by the richness, beauty and ecological diversity of one of the most magical places on planet. The Harvard MBA and social media mogul also realized that he could apply his business savvy and conservation ethic to show that a for-profit enterprise could also serve to protect endangered ecosystems while supporting and developing conservation strategies in local communities on a sustainable platform.

In 2006, he launched Patagonia Sur, a company as innovative as it is difficult to define. Patagonia Sur supports reforestation and carbon sequestration projects, invests in eco-tourism and other sustainable community based economic development initiatives, and spearheads scientific research and conservation efforts through its Melimoyu Ecosystem Research Institute (MERI). All of these initiatives form the foundation of Adam’s leading-edge ideas around green entrepreneurialism.

“We know that in order to sustain our work in this area, we need to find ways for people from around the world to experience the beauty of this area and the passion of its people, first hand,” says Adams, who in 2013 created special guest programs with local scientists and conservationists like Celine Cousteau. “That is the reason why we created the Patagonia Sur Reserves and developed activities where our guests can become actively involved in our conservation efforts.”

Conservation travel to Costa Rica

Twenty years ago Karen Lewis and her husband liquidated their assets in Minnesota to finance the purchase and preservation of a large tract of lowland rainforest in Costa Rica and build a small, supporting ecotourism project. Their Lapa Rios Rainforest Ecolodge turns 20 this year and sits upon the 930-acre Lapa Rios Reserve, overlooking a pristine point where the Golfo Dulce meets the wild Pacific Ocean.

The reserve helps buffer neighboring Corcovado National Park and serves as a wildlife corridor. Their efforts have been awarded Costa Rica’s highest certification in sustainable tourism, and a conservation easement that will be signed next month through The Nature Conservancy and Costa Rica's CEDARENA will ensure that this large track of first growth/bio-diverse forest in the Osa Peninsula will be preserved in perpetuity. The reserve is an incredible asset for guests of the 100 acre ecolodge who can choose to partake in wildlife and nature hikes and scientific research projects.

“Our guests come to experience abundance of wildlife and biodiversity within our rainforest,” says Karen Lewis. “And when they are ready to leave, we hear time and again how they were touched by the people, from our guides to our hospitality team and chefs, all of whom are from the local community. Conservation and ecotourism is not just about preserving land and nature, it is about protecting and enhancing cultures and livelihoods.”

The United Nations agrees and last December passed a resolution entitled, “Promotion of Ecotourism for Poverty Eradication and Environment Protection.” The resolution called on UN member states to adopt policies that underscore ecotourism’s, “positive impact on income generation, job creation and education and, thus, on the fight against poverty and hunger.”

As a tour operator who wants to help enlighten his guests on the positive impacts of tourism, Kutay is the first to admit that travel of all kinds has an unavoidable ecological and cultural footprint. However he believes strongly that these impacts are more than offset by guest experiences that can serve as a catalyst for positive change.

“These days our guests come to us with a high level of knowledge about issues,” says Kutay. “Today, travel philanthropy is bigger than it has ever been and more and more people want to use their resources to not only see and understand for themselves the need for conservation and preservation, but also contribute in a meaningful way. This is why we are seeing this growth in what we are calling conservation travel.”

Source: Wildland Adventures

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