Businesses are increasingly recognising the importance of biodiversity and nature. We now understand that a healthy natural environment is vital not only for providing life-preserving services, but as the foundation for future prosperity and social resilience. In response, the consortium Business for Nature has created informative guidance, including clear priority actions to help businesses halt and reverse biodiversity loss, for 12 of the most impactful business sectors.
I drafted the Travel & Tourism overview, with Business for Nature, which has since been endorsed by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance (SHA). It provides a compelling insight into how Travel & Tourism not only relies on biodiversity and nature but, when managed well, can also support and enhance it. We have the potential to become an agent of change across the whole of society – protecting animals and restoring nature and biodiversity in global destinations.
This is reminiscent of my work with the tourism sector in creating the first ever guidance on animal welfare and how these guidelines then helped shape the future of how animals are treated in tourism. (Animal welfare refers to the physical and mental state of an animal and their ability to cope with given situations such as use in tourism activities.)
It was 15 years ago that I was approached by the Head of Sustainability for the Federation of Tour Operators (a consortium of mainstream tourism businesses) to help introduce the animal welfare topic to the Travel & Tourism sector. In the early 2000s up to 70% of excursion product involved animals – from cultural practices, like elephant or camel riding, to more extreme activities like swimming with sea lions or jaguars and even holding snakes and lions! Tourism businesses had started to question the treatment of the animals involved and the potential risk to their customers, concerns which sparked the need for some industry guidance.
At that time the UK Government’s Animal Welfare Bill was progressing through Parliament. With a focus on the importance of safeguarding the welfare of animals, it recognised their sentience (ability to experience pain or suffering) and required anyone who has animals under their care to ensure they have a life worth living. Working with my colleagues at the time – the sustainability leads in major tourism businesses, the FTO and then ABTA, and other stakeholders – we launched the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines in 2013 to much fanfare.
The Guidelines consist of a set of concise booklets, each focused on a type of animal activity (Animals in a Captive Environment, Working Animals, etc.) and containing a set of advised minimum requirements together with best practice guidance. It was a great project to help pioneer, it defined my future career, and to this day the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines continue to improve standards in animal care and shape the involvement of animals in tourism. It has even helped influence the new UK law to ban the domestic advertising and sale of Low-Welfare Activities Abroad.
I see ANIMONDIAL’s current work in helping to develop the Nature Positive Tourism approach in a similar light. This approach builds on the legacy of the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines – that individual animal welfare matters – and widens our duty of care to the protection of all living things (‘biodiversity’) and their collective ability to support our well-being and survival. The guidance which we helped produce with the WTTC, SHA and UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) cuts through the complexity of a similarly technical but vital topic. Much like the ABTA Guidelines, it provides insight into how tourism operations may have negative impacts, and what mitigation actions are necessary to avoid, minimise or reverse them.
However, for biodiversity, we do not have the ten years that it took the Travel & Tourism sector to fully adopt and apply the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines. Governments, businesses and society are required to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. Fortunately, the Nature Positive Tourism Partnership is working on a range of resources to make this possible. We have thorough reports, a ‘Toolbox of Nature Positive Tourism Resources’, and a wealth of practical case studies (soon to be published). These will provide the broad spectrum of tourism businesses with the information and support they need to reduce their operational impacts and build back nature in their destinations.
ANIMONDIAL is also here to help, of course. Building on our long-term knowledge of animal welfare and the protection of animals in tourism, we have produced the first ever evaluation tool for Travel & Tourism, to help businesses identify and measure their specific impacts on animals and nature. After years of development and testing, NATOUR IMPACT, is now available to businesses that are looking for a bespoke assessment of their operations and guidance on where their limited resources are best directed to protect biodiversity and nature.