Today is Earth Day. A day to celebrate the amazing place where we live, but also a time to reflect on our relationship with Planet Earth and, as ‘normality’ resumes, our reliance upon it.
This last weekend, the British public left their houses en masse. With every reason to celebrate, spend saved up money, and meet loved ones, but we must not forget why we were stuck in our homes for months… Indeed, COVID-19 still presents a significant risk, and as recorded global deaths exceed 3 million, efforts need to focus on bringing it under control, but also to ensure it never happens again.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded its investigation into the origins of COVID-19. It issued a call to action for global governments to suspend all markets “where live animals are held, slaughtered and dressed”, noting they “pose a particular risk for pathogen transmission to workers and customers alike”. They concluded that COVID-19 most likely originated from a species of bat, infecting humans via another, yet to be identified, animal species. Where the mixing of animal species, usually from unknown origins and of unknown health status, coupled with poor hygiene and housing conditions, provide the ideal conditions for the emergence of new pathogens that include zoonotic viruses (like COVID-19).
Live animal markets were also implicated some 17 years ago, following the SARS pandemic. Then the live animal markets were initially suspended but soon resumed, unchallenged and unchanged, despite the risk.
Whilst SARS was not as deadly as COVID-19, it is a type of coronavirus. Why no action was taken then by the international community is not understood, as on hindsight, their permanent closure could well have prevented COVID-19. Clearly international pressures must be applied today, to end these known incubators of dangerous disease.
But what does emergent disease have to do with Planet Earth?
Evidence unequivocally demonstrates that planetary health, biodiversity, climate change, and emergent disease are interconnected. Whereby the often-exploitative human activity on the natural world (i.e. animal abuse, wildlife trafficking, land conversion, habitat fragmentation, etc.) drives biodiversity-loss and climate change, and further, directly corresponds with a sharp increase in human infectious disease originating from animals (known as zoonoses). Reducing such practices, will likely aid the restoration of nature and reinstate its ability as a protective barrier against disease.
Nature should not only be regarded as the ‘silver bullet’ to lessen climate change (as concluded in ANIMONDIAL’s previous blog), but it is also considered the ‘silver bullet’, to protect us all from emergent diseases. Check out ANIMONDIAL’s 5-point plan to better protect nature.
What can the travel and tourism sector do to help?
The sector has the ability to influence change, particularly in those destinations that rely on tourism revenues. Such action will not only help to discourage animal exploitation, and encourage the better protection of animals and nature, but it also has the means to mitigate future pandemics.
By example, FOUR PAWS, the international NGO is calling on the travel and tourism sector to help bring an end to the dog and cat meat trade, which they evidence to proliferate zoonotic disease in tourism destinations. Their investigations in Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam have revealed that up to 30 million companion animals are killed every year for their meat in Asia and are frequently slaughtered in markets alongside other species, contributing to the threat. This is highlighted by this infographic:
Whilst few western tourists are likely to venture to intentionally eat either dog or cat, tourists are exposed to risk in marketplaces, restaurants and along trade routes frequented by tourists. Dogs and cats, along with many mammals, are implicated in the transmission of disease. Most notably the fatal diseases of rabies and cholera but, due the species mixing in the live animal markets, could well be implicated in the next emergent disease.
FOUR PAWS is seeking the support of the travel and tourism sector to raise concern with the authorities and encourage an end to the dog and cat meat trade. FOUR PAWS sets out the dangers of the trade to public and animal health and provides recommendations for future action, in the full report.
The COVID-19 pandemic magnifies numerous systemic problems, including widespread exploitation of natural resources, ineffective environmental protection, social and economic inequalities, and substandard healthcare systems. If we are to truly build back better, actions must break down the silos, exploring the synergies and convergence between climate, biodiversity, and public health.
» Support the FOUR PAWS pledge to protect local people and tourists alike from zoonotic disease
» Sign up to Build Back Better for Animals and nature
There is no doubt, Planet Earth is experiencing the highest atmospheric CO2 concentrations that have not been equalled for millions of years, with resulting temperature rises threatening the balance of life and the collapse of everything that gives us security.
ANIMONDIAL, the specialist consultancy supporting the travel and tourism businesses to better protect animals and nature, acknowledges the Climate Emergency, and offers a means for the tourism sector to embrace the “silver bullet” to lessen climate change and save ourselves.
This requires much more than just counting and reducing carbon output, it requires the better protection and regeneration of the natural systems that already absorb carbon and bring stability to life on Earth.
Professor Schellnhuber, Director Emeritus at Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, speaking at ITB Berlin earlier this month, acknowledged that nature is our “silver bullet” to combating climate change. He acknowledged nature’s ability to absorb carbon and maintain ecological balance, advocating a complete change in global priority-setting, whereby animal and nature protection underpins all human activity.
Whilst tourism can exploit nature, wildlife, and the limited natural resources, if managed well, it brings value and investment to animal and nature protection, and ecosystem services. Tourism can be a force for good and through cross-sector effort, tourism could become the driver for meaningful change. ANIMONDIAL helps guide travel and tourism businesses to make the right choices to Build Back Better for Animals and nature.
Humans and domesticated animals now account for 95% of all biomass on Earth, with wild mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians being about 5% (Bar-On et al., 2018; Elhacham et al., 2020). Human activity has already altered over 70% of the Earth’s land surface (IPBES, 2019) and more than two-thirds of the oceans (Halpern et al., 2015) through the loss of biodiversity and habitat degradation (IPBES, 2019). This has already resulted in an average 68% decline in population sizes of vertebrate species (WWF, 2020) and 1 in 5 recorded animal and plant species facing extinction (IUCN, 2020). Humanity is already consuming 1.6 times more resource than the Earth can naturally provide (Global Footprint Network), and if nothing is done to lessen the impact, nature’s ability to prevent atmospheric CO2 overload and spiralling global warming, will be severely compromised (C. Bradshaw et al., 2021).
Scientists, NGOs and governments have been telling us for years that humanity must seek to better manage its impact. Various global initiatives have tried to bring structure and interpretation to the required efforts (UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Aichi Targets, the Triple Bottom Line, etc.) but as acknowledged by Anna Pollock during ATTA’s AdventureELEVATE Virtual Europe, these have all failed to achieve their goals – crippled by a lack of commitment, collaborative action, an overabundance of targets and a lack of sector practicability. Later this year, CoP15 on biological diversity, and CoP26 on climate change, may well set more targets, which could well fail, but perhaps we should instead focus on priorities rather than trying to address every challenge at once?
Whilst it is easy to become overwhelmed and disillusioned by the mounting evidence of the Climate Emergency, there is hope. Hope that through our concerted efforts, we can lessen negative impact, better protect and regenerate nature, and improve the Earth’s ability to retain ecological balance. Businesses, not only governments, must step-up and adopt sustainable practices that better protect the life on which we depend.
ANIMONDIAL does not claim to have all the answers, but it does have the vision and the drive to work with others, combine knowledge and efforts, to simplify complexity and overcome challenges, and the ability to deliver meaningful change. In the months and years ahead, ANIMONDIAL will do what it can to connect, inform, inspire, and empower sustainable and regenerative tourism that prioritises the better protection of animals and nature – but we cannot do this alone.
What can you do?
Reconnect with nature
As a part of nature ourselves, we must provide opportunity for travellers to reconnect, understand, appreciate and respect nature as our lifeline for wellbeing and prosperity.
Safeguard individual welfare
Ensuring all animals involved in holiday or vacation offerings / excursions have a life worth living. Where a respect for life on Earth starts with recognising and safeguarding their individual and species-specific needs.
Overcome industry challenges
Alternative to ‘stop sale’, work with your partners and suppliers to develop responsible alternative experiences to those activities with animals evidenced to compromise animal welfare and survival.
Protect threatened species
Underpinning biological diversity, efforts must seek to prevent the killing, wild-capture, trade and sale of animal and plant species threatened with extinction, and to better protect endemic fauna and flora.
Invest in nature
Bring much needed support and value to community-based animal protection and nature conservation, encouraging local people to value wildlife and natural habitat alive, not dead.
Together we can Build Back Better for Animals, where nature-friendly tourism is part of the solution to lessen the global problem of climate change.
» Learn more about ANIMONDIAL’s Build Back Better for Animals! Sign up to the initiative and received information and exclusive offers on trainings and services.
- Bar-On, Y. M., Phillips, R., and Milo, R. (2018). The biomass distribution on Earth. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 115:6506–6511. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1711842115
- Bradshaw CJA, Ehrlich PR, Beattie A, Ceballos G, Crist E, Diamond J, Dirzo R, Ehrlich AH, Harte J, Harte ME, Pyke G, Raven PH, Ripple WJ, Saltré F, Turnbull C, Wackernagel M and Blumstein DT (2021) Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future. Front. Conserv. Sci. 1:615419. doi: 10.3389/fcosc.2020.615419
- Elhacham, E., Ben-Uri, L., Grozovski, J., Bar-On, Y. M., and Milo, R. (2020). Global human-made mass exceeds all living biomass. Nature 588, 442–444. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-3010-5
- Global Footprint Network (2021)
- IPBES (2019). Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Paris: IPBES Secretariat.
- WWF (2020). Living Planet Report 2020. Gland: WWF.
This year, there are two important international events to galvanise efforts to address the deepening crises of biodiversity loss and climatic change.
The Convention of Biological Diversity in China in May will seek to secure commitments to halt biodiversity-loss, whilst the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November, will aim to further the Paris Agreement goals and reduce carbon emissions.
These will both require cross-government commitment but, it will be their resulting actions that will be assessed for years to come, as to whether enough was done to avert these crises and reach a ‘new stable state’.
Sir David Attenborough gave an impassioned speech to the UN Security Council this week. He urged the assembly of nations for their immediate collaborative action to avert the global “collapse of everything that gives us security”, to work together to lessen climate change, and “to value nature… beyond money”. He recounted the rising global temperatures, current atmospheric CO2 concentrations “that have not been equalled, for millions of years”, the despoiling of oceans, and the catastrophic decline of biodiversity as the contributing factors. Above all, he recognised the need for every one of us to do what we can to lessen the resulting disasters ahead.
We, of course, expect our governments to step-up, listen to Sir David and other experts, and take the immediate, necessary action but, what can we do as businesses, and as individuals?
I know many of us are currently focused on our own survival during this current COVID-19 crisis, but it is also an ideal time for the travel and tourism business to review its pre-pandemic activity: identify negative impact, and seek to better manage, or ideally minimise it. I believe that actions must now be more than just ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’, in fact we should adopt a multifaceted approach that seeks to address the key drivers of climate change: carbon emissions, over-exploitation of natural resources, and biodiversity loss.
Animal protection may not be the priority for most travel businesses, but recognising its impact on climatic change, perhaps it should be…
I co-founded ANIMONDIAL to help the travel and tourism sector work through the complexities of animal and nature protection in tourism and identify which actions can be taken to minimise negative impact and restore the health of the natural environment. It is certainly vital to ensure your product offerings are aligned to your animal protection commitment but why not also think about how you can restore biodiversity in the destinations you visit. ANIMONDIAL’s Build Back Better for Animals initiative is offering webinars, trainings and services to inform, inspire and empower travel and tourism professionals. Providing all that you need to assess impact, and review and improve current practices.
For example, consider what you can do to better protect our oceans and seas.
These cover 70% of Earth’s surface and within them live tiny plant-like organisms, known as phytoplankton. Just like plants and trees they contain chlorophyll that capture sunlight and use photosynthesis to convert it to energy, producing oxygen as a by-product. Phytoplankton are as equally important as rainforests and woodlands and produce over 50% of the world’s oxygen and absorbs 50 x more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere (World Economic Forum, 2019). They also support all life within seas and oceans, including approximately 16% of all animal protein consumed globally and the livelihoods of 40 million people (OECD, 2016).
Damage to these fragile environments, through pollution (plastic, chemical, fertilisers, etc), overfishing and trawling, damping of waste, etc., kills the phytoplankton, realising stored carbon, and removes that life support. Not only does this exacerbate global warming, but also threatens to change our climate and weather patterns. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “more than 90% of the warming that has occurred on Earth over the past 50 years has happened within the ocean”.
The point I wish to make is that whilst it is important to focus on carbon emission reduction, such as converting to green energies and cutting out single-use plastics, it is equally, if not more important to protect and regenerate the life on Earth that already exists. From ‘Life Under the Water’ (SDG14) to ‘Life on Land’ (SDG15). A mature tree holds over 100 times more carbon, and life support, that a newly planted sampling; placing more importance to preserving primary forests than planting more trees.
By adopting measures to better protect animals (biodiversity) and nature (life support), we have a chance to lessen the crises that Sir David had said are inevitable if ‘we’ continue on ‘our’ current path.
Each month I aim to focus on different natural environments and mention projects that are doing great work to better protect that environment. Offering travel businesses the opportunity to learn about their work, I hope travel businesses will support their activities and fulfil their SDG obligations. This month, acknowledging the start of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development – a framework to support the sustainable management of the oceans – I have focused on actions to save ‘Life Below Water’ SDG14 – “to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. The following are all members of ANIMONDIAL’s Animal Protection Network:
Save the Aegean is an initiative of the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation that aims to form an alliance between environmentalists, scientists, businesses, and consumers to reduce the environmental footprint on this popular sea.
Save the Aegean aims to contribute to the protection and preservation of the Aegean Sea’s rare biodiversity, through filling in knowledge gaps via research and awareness raising through effective conservation actions and eco-tourism.
The Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary aims to become the world’s first sanctuary for dolphins, displaced from zoo attractions, and provide rescue and rehabilitation of sick, injured or ‘at-risk’ marine animals. Serving as a model of a multi-disciplinary teaching facility, AMLS will focus on providing solutions-based initiatives to better protect marine mammals and turtles through a ‘unified’ Mediterranean Marine Mammal Rescue Network.
The Barbados Environmental Conservation Trust (BECT) has been set up to enable and support local communities and environmental activities aimed at the preservation and restoration of Barbados’ natural assets including the conservation of its marine life. Supported projects include the protection of marine life, particular turtles, and the regeneration of its coral reefs. Efforts seek to restore the country’s marine biodiversity, protect its beaches from erosion, and boost the attractiveness of the habitats for ecotourism.
A UK-based organisation, CCell was founded to solve the one of the of most devastating effects of climate change: The degradation of the world’s coral reefs and coastal erosion. CCell provides a cost-effective, long-term and sustainable solution by utilising energy from renewable sources to generate rock at a rate grown 2-3 times faster than in nature.
Corals grown in hatcheries are planted onto the rock creating a reef benefitting the environment and providing comprehensive coastal protection. Their pilot project in Mexico is underway and in collaboration with the local community and international artists, they now wish to develop an underwater attraction to appeal to the eco-tourism market and extend the protected marine zone. The project aims to improve knowledge and encourage cross-community support creating a site of marine restoration, environmental education and cultural appreciation.
Please get in touch if you would like to be introduced to one of these exciting projects that are protecting Life Below Water.
Now that the disastrous year of 2020 is behind us, we can all look forward with new hope. Hope that the road to recovery is short lived, hope that tourism will once again support opportunity and development, but also the hope that the threat of further pandemics will be averted, and the fallout never happens again.
We now know that COVID-19 is an animal-borne disease, or zoonotic disease, its passage to humans eased when nature’s natural barrier has been eroded or removed. The World Health Organisation estimates these kinds of diseases account for 75% of all newly detected human pathogens over the last 30 years. Disease, and potential pandemics, which could be averted if biodiversity loss is halted and nature’s health restored.
This is a stark reminder that habitat degradation, animal exploitation, biodiversity loss and climate change are not someone else’s issue but actually affect us all. Facts that certainly help to focus our minds, but ‘not knowing what to do’, or ‘how to do it’, often prevents action, and change.
I co-founded ANIMONDIAL, a specialist consultancy, to help travel businesses cut through the complexity and understand the impacts of their actions on animals and nature, and in so doing, to take responsibility, make informed decisions, and minimise detrimental activity. Protecting animals may not be the first topic that springs to mind when developing your sustainable business strategy, but perhaps it should be…
Not only do we share our planet with 1.8 million+ other species, but their welfare and survival are integral to ours. If poorly managed, tourism tends to exploit animals, degrade their natural attributes, cause habitat and biodiversity loss, and result in climate change, human-wildlife conflict, and viral emergence. However, tourism can be a force for good too, influencing the better protection of the natural environment, its biodiversity, and animal welfare, through tourism revenue and operation. The World Economic Forum estimates nature’s economic value generation at US$44 trillion — that’s over half of the world’s total GDP!
It was therefore shocking to learn that large numbers of animal and plant species are in drastic decline, with monitored populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish having reportedly declined by on average by 68%, since 1970 (Living Planet Report, 2020). According to the IUCN, one fifth of the world’s animals and plants are now threatened with extinction. There appears to me no greater need, and reason, to halt biodiversity loss and Build Back Better for animals and nature.
“We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last that can do anything about it.” — Tanya Steele, Chief executive, WWF
So, as we consider how to Build Back Better during tourism’s resurgence — and we must at this opportune time — it is imperative to follow a more considered approach to sustainability planning and application:
- Acknowledge that environmental, social, and economic impacts are related and interconnected. Consider the fact that a problem may be better addressed at its cause, rather than focusing on the consequence.
- Define your commitment, informing your customers, partners and suppliers, and integrate it throughout the business with defined roles and responsibilities for each team.
- Don’t feel you need to shoulder solution development alone, work with others (experts, partners, suppliers and other travel businesses) to overcome industry challenges.
- Always consider the wider implications of your actions on local people, individual animal welfare, and the natural world, before they are negatively affected.
- Join ANIMONDIAL to Build Back Better for Animals and seek to protect both the animals involved in your product offerings and experiences, and the animals whose welfare may be indirectly compromised within the destinations you visit.
» Sign up to ANIMONDIAL’s Build Back Better for Animals and benefit from exclusive offers and discounted services
In 2021, ANIMONDIAL launched a series of webinars and workshops to inform, inspire and empower travel and tourism businesses to Build Back Better for Animals. » Check out what’s on.
Join ANIMONDIAL, together with other travel experts, for a lively panel discussion at the Adventure Travel Networking Conference on 5th February to consider the implications of Building Back Better. » Find out more
Year 2020 has been a truly devastating year for the travel and tourism sector, and some may say that it is a completely inappropriate time to encourage business to become more responsible and to better protect animals.
However, this pandemic has demonstrated the outcome of overexploitation of natural resources for economic gain, and the deadly consequences of ignoring expert warnings. Whereby the exploitation of nature, its wildlife, and its limited resources, results in biodiversity loss, climate change, and greater potential of viral emergence. During tourism sector resurgence, there is perhaps no greater need to review and reduce our negative impact to ensure our future resilience.
This is also the view of Prue Stone, Head of Sustainability at the UK-based adventure tour specialist, Explore. As with most travel businesses, 2020 has been incredibly challenging but, despite restricted working hours, company management has fully supported her decision to work with ANIMONDIAL, and others, to create Explore’s animal protection commitment.
In the hope that Prue’s experiences can inspire and guide other travel businesses to create their own business’ commitment to better protect animals – I have asked Prue to share her thoughts:
“Developing Explore’s animal protection commitment was both a necessity and a luxury. The need for change is very real, and the time for change is now. However, in such a challenging time, and noting that it takes time to create a suitable policy, and possibly money involved, it is also a luxury. A balance needs to be found.”
ANIMONDIAL advocates the importance for each business to create their own animal protection policy within their wider sustainability commitment. Ever since I started work with the Federation of Tour Operators in 2004, creating animal protection guidance for travel businesses (that formed the groundwork for ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidelines), I have advised businesses to create their own unique commitment as the first important step. Defining their next steps.
“I think the process of creating a policy from scratch, or even reviewing an existing one, can become a point of reflection, or internal audit. We all assume we are “doing the right thing”, but when was the last time we actively checked? By writing down clear guidelines, providing explanations and examples, and communicating them clearly through the business and supply chain, you are ensuring transparency and greater understanding. Ultimately it will allow us to move towards a better future for animals and wildlife and encourage others to do the same.”
Knowing where to start, and what to include in your policy is a challenge. Particularly with so many issues, external pressures, and the multitude of animal species and activities available – whilst also seeking to protect local livelihoods – How do you start drafting such a policy?
“I started by reading other companies’ policies, in a variety of industries, thinking about how each of these made me feel. I wanted to create something that felt authentic to Explore, which encapsulates how we operate and what we believe in. But there are so many issues to consider, and no one policy will ever be perfect. I take comfort from this. I didn’t need to create a policy that could be scribed in stone, I needed to create one that was right for us now, and acknowledge that it will change over time. And indeed, the changes that we need to make also take time.”
Unfortunately, it is never the case of one approach fits all, and your animal protection commitment should reflect your companies’ brand values and operations, but are there key principles to include that you would recommend to other travel businesses?
“The most important components of any policy are commitment and support, more so than the finer detail. Commitment from the person or team writing the policy, those that make the operational changes as a result, those communicating the policy and those ultimately adhering to the guidelines on the ground. There also has to be support from the top level of management, to allow for the time this process can take and how it will filter through the business’ operations.”
Tour operators are regularly under pressure by well-intentioned activists to remove certain practices with animals or modify operations. How do you manage these pressures around your commercial obligations, or have you just removed the ‘unacceptable’ activities all together?
“It is important to identify any areas of concern or activities which are known to harm animals and to act quickly in the first instance. However I don’t believe removing all activity is the answer to sustainable industry-wide change and a knee-jerk response may also cause greater detriment. Change comes from working together, learning from one another; across cultures, countries, industries. At Explore we know, we alone will not have the impact that is needed to protect all animals, but if we reach out to our peers, our suppliers and our customers and together we all move in the right direction – then we can start to see the changes that are so desperately needed.”
Consulting experts can help improve understanding and navigate the complexities of the topic, as well as help to predict the likely outcomes if certain activities are removed from product offerings. Explore acquired the support of NGOs Four Paws and the Born Free Foundation, as well as the expertise of ANIMONDIAL. How did that work out for you, and would you advise other businesses to work with experts when creating their animal protection commitment?
“The breadth of advice, the different perspectives, and the challenge this all presented was as important as the resulting policy. One size doesn’t fit all, and each partner added something unique. Four Paws, for example, highlighted the need to weave the community element into our policy, whilst ANIMONDIAL offers a board spectrum of knowledge and are specialists within the travel industry. It was the combination of ideals of “perfect” animal protection with the reality of human nature, our own ethos at Explore, and what we want for our holidays and customers resulted that ultimately defined our commitment.”
» Find out more about Explore’s Animal Protection Commitment
ANIMONDIAL also provides additional guidance to help travel businesses mitigate risk, minimise negative impact on nature and biodiversity, reduce the potential for disease transference, procure appropriate animal-based product and Build Back Better for Animals.
The ANIMONDIAL team wishes our blog readers a Merry Christmas and a New Year full of hope and resurgence.
Perhaps like me you have spent this month hellbent on listening to, and consuming all that WTM Virtual had to offer in the way of reassurances, advice, and inspiration for future travel and tourism?
Unusually for WTM to have the time to listen to the presentations, as well as to take part, has been hugely welcomed. A rare opportunity to hear the sentiments of others, to learn, to connect, and importantly, to think.
“Tourism can be a force for good”, certainly resonates, as well as the urgent call by Ministers “to create a safer, greener and smarter travel and tourism”. I certainly support such sentiments, particular in relation to animal protection and biodiversity regeneration, but whilst an important call to action, there remains difficulty for business to decipher viable actions from such a vision. This is a recurring challenge for travel businesses that want better to protect animals and the natural environment – and why the ANIMONDIAL consultancy was established.
The 2020 Living Planet Index (LPI) presented a stark picture:
- Between 1970 and 2016, there has been an average 68% decline in monitored populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish.
- One fifth of the world’s animals and plants – 32,000 species – are threatened with extinction.
- The planet’s biodiversity is in rapid decline, threatening ecosystem viability.
- This threatens our ability to access food and fresh water, medicines and materials, and our capability to combat Climate Change and future viral emergence.
Basically, since 1970, our Ecological Footprint has far exceeded Earth’s rate of regeneration.
There is really no time to waste, we need to act #ForNature.
Encouragingly, I have seen a shift in people’s sense of urgency, and support for action to better protect nature, but there is also a sense of disconnect too that must be addressed.
Perhaps it is so huge an issue that many people feel that action is best left to governments, or it’s the responsibility of big business, or that ending the Covid-19 pandemic has greater importance. These mindsets were considered in the ‘Tourism and Biodiversity, Friend or Foe’ discussion (available at WTM Virtual), which acknowledged the role of business to engage and invest in nature.
The discussion between responsible tourism professionals and conservationists also recognised that Covid-19, biodiversity-loss and the Climate Crisis are inter-related. Failure to protect and regenerate nature will ultimately increase the likelihood of greater environmental challenges, which includes further pandemics. Humanity’s wellbeing, prosperity and survival is therefore dependent on healthy, functioning ecosystems.
Nature is valued and enjoyed by everyone, we must do what we can to protect it.
As tourism businesses, we already know the importance of nature and what it uniquely brings to many destinations across the world. We know travellers are increasingly wanting to include nature in their holidays and ensure measures are taken to minimise negative impact. Tourism can also generate value in nature, influence the protection of key species (such as the Bengal tiger or mountain gorilla) and with tourism revenues, encourage local and national governments to better protect wild spaces and ecosystems.
Tourism, and the thousands of SMEs that underpin the industry, could therefore play a significant role in leading the charge on nature protection and regeneration by:
- Offering greater nature-based tourism product;
- Investing in local communities;
- Working with your suppliers to deliver sustainable activities and solutions;
- Supporting genuine community-based conservation;
- Ensuring only sustainable and responsible activities with animals;
These are obvious and easy steps in the right direction. Although we could do more.
Defining what to do, and how to make a meaningful difference is, however, a complex task. This was a reflection as I completed ANIMONDIAL’s submission to the Business for Nature consultation on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. ANIMONDIAL has joined over 600 businesses to urge the world’s governments to set ambitious goals, targets, and policy directions in the lead-up to COP15 on the Convention of Biological Diversity (May 2021). Mobilising multi-sectorial businesses to influence governments to better protect biodiversity is certainly commendable, but it also occurred to me that businesses, particularly in tourism, could further step-up and play a key role. Particularly if those ambiguous visions were translated into relatable and viable actions to optimise output. Whereby overall recommendations to review, reduce and protect are specifically defined for airlines, accommodation-providers and tour operators, for instance. Whilst the SDGs provide important guidance, I would recommend the recruitment of sector and sub-sector champions to help the different businesses optimise on their output.
What is clear is that all businesses, and functions within, irrespective of the sector, must:
- Review their current activities against the SDGs and performance criteria;
- Measure and minimise negative impact;
- Act to better protect and restore nature and its biodiversity.
Check out ANIMONDIAL’s Build Back Better for Animals, supporting the tourism sector.
The other consideration to ponder is should there be ‘a stick’ to encourage those businesses that choose to ignore the urgency, or worse still, proliferate its demise? Justin Francis, WTM panellist and long-term pioneer of responsible tourism, certainly thinks so, he advocates a legal requirement for businesses to ensure biodiversity net gain and penalties for those that do not.
Ultimately everyone needs nature, but nature needs us too.
“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” – Albert Einstein
This quote has sprung to mind several times over the past seven months and is perhaps now more poignant to the Travel and Tourism sector than most. According to the World Trade Tourism Council in 2019, prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, the sector supported 330 million jobs globally, and now as we hit the difficult winter season, we are likely to suffer 197.5 million job losses.
This is indeed a time of unprecedented global crisis, a time we switch to survival mode, to save our jobs, and our industry. However, there is STILL opportunity. Not of increased profit and market growth, but of increased global determination to fight an invisible war and build back with a greater respect for nature.
Nature is indeed ‘everyone’s business’. According to the Business for Nature Initiative, over half of the world’s GDP is reliant upon it, and through unsustainable supply chains, we are drawing away more than can be replenished.
At no time in our history has consumer priority towards safety and ethical standards been higher. People are putting their trust in businesses to make things better, and it is suggested that global brands have more influence over public conscious than our political leaders. Through Business for Nature, corporations are calling on governments to adopt policies to reverse nature loss in this decade. This is a journey I am proud to be a part of. This month ANIMONDIAL was honoured to reach the finals of the Lloyds Bank National Business Award for Social Impact for our work to galvanise the amazing work of NGOs and travel businesses through the crisis.
At this time of increased global unity, could we be facing a new revolution? – The Sustainability Revolution. Never have we seen such focus on ethical rights and responsibilities – the rise of veganism and ethical consumerism, the growth of importance of the Global Sustainable Development Goals… and then in walks Covid-19 to knock us all sideways! We need to better protect nature for our own survival. In this blog, I am choosing to focus on the biggest issue of this generation: the survival of Planet Earth, and the role of the travel and tourism sector to lead the way for the Sustainability Revolution…
First of all, let’s look at the problem…
In economic terms, nature is believed to have an estimated value generation of 44 trillion US dollars (equal to over half of the world’s total GDP!) However, humanity’s negative impact on the planet is not only contributing to the Climate Change Crisis but also increasing the occurrence of animal-to-human (zoonotic) infectious disease such as Covid-19. In fact, over 60% of all known diseases discovered in the last 50 years originate from animals and spread to us when the protective barrier of nature has been jeopardised.
But why should all this matter to us, the travel sector?
- The lack of tourists visiting national parks may well have stemmed the tide of negative impact caused by ‘over-tourism’, but the lack of revenue has resulted in less money generation for conservation efforts.
- With wildlife tourism supporting over 30million jobs, lockdown puts a huge strain on local communities.
- With park staff and anti-poaching patrols losing employment, threatened wildlife, such as the highly endangered pangolin or black rhino, are left increasingly vulnerable to further persecution.
- Tourism itself, puts an enormous stress on the natural environment, and encourages greater contact between nature and people, thus heightening exposure of viral transference.
- And of course, other animal species are at risk of catching the virus and passing it on. Malayan tigers at the Bronx Zoo contracted Covid-19, whilst non-human primates are also highly susceptible. As projects are struggling for funds to continue their conservation work – we are at risk of losing some of our most vulnerable animal species.
Recognising that up to 60% of holiday excursions or experiences, and up to 96% of all tourism activities in Asia, involve animals and nature, we must all take positive actions right now.
The good news, however, is that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to some ground-breaking positive change for animals and nature. As human activity has reduced, nature has taken advantage! There have been encouraging reports of re-wilding of urban areas. We have seen wildlife – from coyotes, spotted at the Golden Gate Bridge – to wild horses grazing in downtown Washington DC. In Asia, China is closing live animal markets and announcing a ban on wildlife consumption. And one of Southeast Asia’s most iconic tourist destinations, Siem Reap has taken major strides to protect dogs and cats by banning their trade and consumption.
Taking all of this into account, what steps can we take at this challenging time to aid our recovery and rebuild the travel and tourism sector for the better protection of the planet?
Step 1: Look inwardly
Whilst operations are grounded, this is a rare opportunity to review them – to return more effective and make the protection of animals and nature an integral component of our tourism agenda. Here are some ideas:
- Adopt new animal and nature SDG commitments for your business and ensure these are ingrained into all your business practises and operations.
- Use this opportunity to audit your tourism experiences that involve animals or nature to identify and mitigate risk of zoonotic disease transfer and negative local impact.
- Encourage activity-suppliers to adopt their own animal protection commitments through selling only responsible and sustainable experiences, and supporting suppliers to improve standards, avoiding loss of local livelihoods.
- Educate customers about animal and nature protection. Use this time to create new customer guidelines and educational materials to engage their interest and report any questionable activities.
Step 2: Collaborate!
‘Nature is everyone’s business’! Changing our relationship with nature is too great a task to do on our own. Working together we can make big impact for the better protection of animals and nature in tourism.
- Sign up to the World Trade Tourism Council Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade and the International Wildlife Trade Zero Tolerance Policy to to support the protection of endangered species.
- Join the World Economic Forum’s Business for Nature initiative, engaging governments to reverse nature loss by 2030.
- Support global tourism solutions: Work together to establish and invest in new solutions to some of the biggest, long standing issues for animals and nature in tourism.
- Work with NGOs to deliver meaningful change: This can be as simple as signing a pledge, donating skills or funds to help them deliver their work or including projects within holiday portfolios.
Step 3: Shout about it!
For the marketeers amongst us: do not let all this good work go unnoticed! Speak to colleagues and ask them to tell you what actions your company is taking to help save the planet and then shout about them! Tell amazing stories and win over the hearts and minds of customers by building your brand as one that cares for the planet! And importantly, use your influence to inspire others to follow your lead.
When lockdowns ease, we have a choice of returning to unsustainable ‘business as usual’, or to take greater responsibility moving forward. So, perhaps now is our chance to take stock, hit reset and set new intentions towards a better future. Join the new revolution and leave your legacy to save nature and save ourselves!
For all travel businesses keen to know more about how to Build Back Better for Animals,
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This spring I was asked to help with the 2nd Edition of The Adventure Travel Guide Standard (ATGS): a comprehensive, voluntary guide to support tour operators, destination managers and guides, evaluate and improve travel guide quality and performance. The ATGS is due to be published in October 2020; a ‘must have’ for travel businesses seeking to Build Back Better.
Anyone who has travelled off the beaten track, enjoys exploring wild places, or prefers a more immersive travel experience may have had the pleasure of being accompanied by a tour guide. Not only do they provide ‘the face’ of the tour operator and keep us safe, but they can also provide a gateway to an immersive, and quite possibly, a transformational experience. Whereby a holiday, or tour, becomes educational and inspirational, as well as enjoyable.
Certainly, from my experience, the guide is an integral contributor, but I have also found that the opportunity to educate, and encourage responsible practices by guests is often lost. Particularly when their desire to interact with animals can place people at risk, jeopardise the welfare of animals, and taint the values of the tour operator.
It was therefore a welcome opportunity to contribute to the ATGS, ensure its alignment with industry animal protection guidelines, and incorporate relevant guidance to encourage responsible animal tourism.
It was also a pleasure to meet Myles Farnbank, Head of Guides and Training at Wilderness Scotland. Myles is an experienced wilderness guide with many years of sea kayaking, canoeing, sailing and mountaineering in some of the worlds wildest places. He is also a guide trainer and consultant. I have asked Myles to provide a Guest Blog for ANIMONDIAL. He considers the role of the tour guide, the importance of an international guiding standard, and the future for tour guiding.
Adventure travel has grown rapidly in recent decades. It has led to an increase in demand for professional adventure travel guides and, in turn, the need for accessible training and clear universal adventure travel guide qualifications and performance standards. Wilderness Scotland aspire to offer clients world class adventure travel experiences. Put another way, we aspire that our experiences are potentially transformational. We can’t guarantee this, as what is transformational for one person may not be for another.
However, we can aim to increase the potential for transformational experience. To do this well requires careful thought, planning and skill on the part of the guide and of course appropriate training that supports these aspirations.
Adventure travel guides are central to the delivery of professional, responsible and memorable adventure travel experiences. They manage safety and risk and ensure the overall quality of the participant’s experience while safeguarding the adventure travel company’s and the destination’s reputation. Moreover, adventure travel guides have a critical role to play in delivering and educating about sustainability with a focus on climate emergency, biodiversity preservation, and the social impacts of global tourism.
For a tour operator, when considering the inclusion of a guide, must consider the need for, and evaluate their ability to:
- Provide safe and challenging experiences
- Provide the highest level of customer service & hospitality
- Represent the company ethos & values
- Be advocates for the local communities, wildlife and landscapes
- Be destination and activity ‘experts’
- Be skilled in group dynamics, communications, leadership and marketing…
- Be flexible, fun, engaging and spontaneous
Being a guide involves a large and varied skill set.
“To be a guide you’ve got to be an expert in lots of different things: wildlife, culture, history, politics, you name it. You have to be a diplomat, a nanny, a psychiatrist, a paramedic, a cheerleader, you’ve got to be all sorts of things. You’ve got to be super-human.”
The range and availability of training for adventure travel guides varies greatly depending on where you are in the world. Some countries have well established training, qualifications and protocols in some cases tied into legal frameworks. In other countries there is literally no training available other than what a business or guide may have created themselves.
In an effort to bring together one integrated Adventure Travel Guide Standard (ATGS), in 2015 the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) convened a working group of adventure travel professionals from 16 countries, including guides, business owners and tour operators. The ATGS is to be revised every 5 years, first by the working group and then through a public comment period. The 2nd edition has been revised between August 2019 and September 2020. It is to be released to the public in October 2020.
The ATGS is a framework businesses and guides can sign up to and use as the basis for their in-house guide training, as well as informing the development of formal qualifications. We at Wilderness Scotland use the ATGS in developing our guide training offer. Our award winning 12 day Wilderness Guide Training Programme, the first of its kind in the UK, used the ATGS as a framework.
The ATGS is based around five core competencies which have been identified as essential for adventure travel guides regardless of geography or activities:
- Technical Skills
- Safety and Risk Management
- Customer Service and Group Management
- Natural and Cultural History Interpretation
I have been involved in the working group for both editions. In this latest review I led a team focussing on the Sustainability competency. Daniel at ANIMONDIAL has been a crucial help reviewing the content around animal welfare in tourism. Our relationship with animals has been brought into even more sharp focus with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has had a huge impact on tourism globally with many businesses and guides fighting for commercial survival. However, tourism is slowly recovering and developing training and protocols around the ‘new normal’. The need for well trained and experienced guides providing both transformational, sustainable and responsible experiences is more important than ever.
The 2nd Edition of The Adventure Travel Guide Standard (ATGS) will be published in October 2020 and accessible through ANIMONDIAL’s October newsletter. It will provide the means for tour operators to evaluate the quality and performance of their guides, encourage tour guides around the world to advocate and apply sustainable and responsible practices, and support the travel and tourism sector Build Back Better for animals, people and nature.
ANIMONDIAL’s new initiative to guide and advise the travel and tourism sector to ACT #ForNature.
There is no better time, or need, to work together to build a fairer and more resilient society that is kinder to animals and the planet; through clear and achievable objectives and actions.
As the travel and tourism sector focuses on its recovery in what is still a highly challenging time, the UNWTO has called on the industry to “Build Back Better”, and deliver a fairer, more sustainable, and responsible future. Scientists to business leaders have urged industry-drivers and policymakers to ACT #ForNature. Whilst animal protection NGOs advocate an end to wildlife consumption, captive animal exploitation, and intensive food production.
These are all well-intentioned objectives, but my fear is that whilst businesses may support a more sustainable approach, few will enact these recommendations without clearly defined, quantifiable outputs.
Keen to help the travel and tourism sector “Build Back Better”, ANIMONDIAL, the specialist consultancy advocating responsible animal tourism, aims to help businesses Build Back Better for Animals.
Combining its expertise in animal welfare science, sustainable tourism development and social impact, ANIMONDIAL is offering a one-stop-shop of capacity-building and enhancing services to help businesses:
1. Maximise their positive impact
A healthy natural environment is intrinsically linked to the health of natural ecosystems, animals, and people.
If managed well, tourism can influence the better protection of nature and its biodiversity, valuing and investing in nature conservation and ecosystem services, creating jobs, and supporting local livelihoods. However, if poorly managed, tourism tends to exploit nature, its wildlife, and its limited resources, resulting in biodiversity loss, Climate Change, and greater human-wildlife challenges.
As explained in a previous ANIMONDIAL blog, a healthy natural environment is intrinsically linked to the health of natural ecosystems, people, and other animals, as well as vital for tourism productivity.
ANIMONDIAL’s ‘Animal-Friendly HealthCheck’ includes a review of existing animal-based activities, supplier auditing capacity, and advice on product selection and outward facing communications. This provides travel businesses all that is required to better protect animals and the natural environment.
2. Build resilience against public health risk
An incredible 70% of all human diseases discovered in the last 50 years originate from animals.
The World is now conscious to the fact that Covid-19, is a zoonotic disease, of animal origin, that had developed by a coronavirus jumping from animals to humans. However, whilst minimising close contact between people and animals, is an obvious solution, it is not a viable solution, considering animals are a vital resource for our enjoyment, comfort, livelihood, food, health, and survival.
In tourism, interaction with animals and nature is increasingly popular, with up to 60% of holiday activities involving animals (ANIMONDIAL) and 96% of travellers to the Asia Pacific undertaking a wildlife tour (UNWTO 2019); not least the 9 million livelihoods dependent on wildlife tourism.
ANIMONDIAL will help you establish safeguards in your operation and supply chain that will protect both people and animals from zoonotic disease, whilst an expert review of currently practices will identify and mitigate any high-risk activity.
3. Combat illegal wildlife trade
Sustainability can no longer be regarded as an ‘aim to have’, but an integral component of all that we do.
Ending the illegal wildlife trade is essential to protecting global biodiversity and controlling the emergence and spread of zoonotic diseases. Generated and proliferated by huge profits and minimal risk, the unsustainable trade threatens the survival of thousands of ‘endangered’ animal and plant species that are integral to the good health of the natural environment.
Travel businesses should work with their suppliers to ensure they do not sell or promote the sale, or transport of unsustainable wildlife or their products, and ask their customers not to pick up, collect or buy live, or parts of animals or plants.
As a biologist, it is often difficult to review some animal experiences objectively. Particularly when poor practice or negative impact is identified.
However, at a time when travel businesses are under greater scrutiny over the animal activities they sell, it is vital that any such decision is based on accurate and complete animal welfare assessment. This will help to identify any shortfalls against requirement and evidence to substantiate the need for improvements. ANIMONDIAL advocates this approach over the proverbial ‘stop sale’ (when a tour operator no longer sells an attraction), instead opting for constructive engagement, encouraging attraction-providers to make the required improvements. Stopping the sale of an attraction, relinquishes any influence over their activities. So, whilst tourism boycotts may well raise awareness about an issue, from experience they usually do little to address the concerns and can even make matters worse.
ANIMONDIAL offers travel businesses the chance to improve the protection of animals in tourism through working with attraction suppliers and non-profits, supporting carefully selected meaningful courses, and by providing their customers with guaranteed animal-friendly experiences.
5. Build back trust in travel
There is a distinct need for the travel and tourism sector to do more to minimise its impact on animals and the natural world to win back public trust.
Media has reported low public trust in travel, exacerbated by the covid-19 crisis. Animal protection NGOs continually criticised their perceived exploitation of animals in tourism, whilst the industry’s contribution to Climate Change is well documented.
ANIMONDIAL is keen to ensure those tour operators and travel agents, and animal-attraction suppliers, that actively seek to minimise negative impact, are duly recognised and rewarded.
ANIMONDIAL wholeheartedly supports the well-intentioned calls for decisive action by the travel and tourism sector to become more sustainable, resilient, and responsible. However, recognising that it may not be possible for the majority to achieve this on their own, ANIMONDIAL is offering its extensive knowledge and experience in animal welfare and nature protection to build a fairer and more resilient society that is kinder to animals and the planet.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global authority that determines species’ conservation status, there are more than 32,000 species threatened with extinction1. That’s a third of all assessed animal and plant species on Earth in need of protection!
We are accustomed to hearing about the conservation of tigers, gorillas, elephants, and even pangolins, but less so about the bog turtle, the short-legged horned toad, or even the basking shark. In fact, studies have revealed that the public places less importance on the conservation of threatened species with name that evokes negative emotions2, with the large, charismatic, terrestrial mammals the most popular3. Even though mammals are proportionally (26%) less threatened than other animals (Classes), compared to 41% of amphibians, 34% selected reptiles, 33% reef-forming corals and 30% sharks and rays.
Species conservation programmes, which are reliant on funding and public support, also tend to focus on those popular, charismatic animals, referring to terms, ‘surrogate’ or ‘flagship’ [species]: implying that less charismatic species benefit too. Although there is plenty of debate suggesting that this is simply not the case, with the less appealing threatened species losing out, even though their protection may be more urgent in ecological terms4. Consider sharks as an example, of the 500 species, 30% are classified as threatened, yet their image remains stigmatised by Hollywood movies.
I invited Dr Erich Ritter from SharkSchool, a member of ANIMONDIAL’s Animal Protection Network, to provide a different insight:
Consider this: one of ecotourism’s last frontiers is to freely interact with sharks. At a time, when swimming with dolphins continues in popularity, sharks still give most people a fright! But the real animal could not be further from the truth. Most of these magnificent species pose little threat to people. In fact, of the known 500 shark species, just a few individuals of 6 to 10 species contribute to 99% of the 60 to 80 incidents per year.
Sharks are the most abundant, top predators on the planet and are vital to maintaining an intact marine ecosystem. Their protection is therefore integral to a healthy marine environment – the largest of all ecosystems. So, we must do everything possible to learn to appreciate these animals, dissolve the stigma, and protect shark species, to protect the oceans.
I am encouraged that more and more scuba divers and snorkelers are starting to interact with sharks, on their own terms, but greater efforts are needed to introduce the general public to sharks and in the right context. For instance, cage-diving, seems counter-productive which it is, if there is no educational value. Include education value, and the experience becomes a lot more interesting and assures people an understanding of these animals and how they live. Unfortunately, however, too many shark tours lack an educational component, sensationalise the experience, and inject further fear into its participants. Sadly, few operators realise the unique position they are in, to spread the word.
Overall, sharks are misunderstood. People mistake their appearance, intelligence, and curiosity as “dangerous” animals. At SharkSchool, we aim to educate people about sharks, to appreciate their natural attributes, and in their environment, how to react around them. Our approach is based on the latest research and my many years of experience interacting with these species. Only when people fully appreciate these beautiful animals will their protection be assured.
At a time when nature conservation and species protection is as important as ever, least for our own survival, can we afford to pick and choose a species for protected, based on how it appears?
In my May blog, I had considered the importance of Nature Conservation, noting nature consists of a fabric of interconnecting relationships of multiple species. Any loss of biodiversity, such as its top predator (such as the shark), destabilises the ecosystem, not only devastating for nature; but equally, for ourselves. Focusing on the ‘popular’ species is clearly not enough, particularly if that skews priority from those environments where put simply, ‘charismatics’ do not reside.
By learning and appreciating more about the different species around us, including those that are perhaps consider less charismatic, could well ensure a more effective approach to Nature Conservation.
- Learn more about SharkSchool and its work to better protect sharks
- Learn more about ANIMONDIAL’s Animal Protection Network, supporting non-profits that protect animals and the natural environment
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ https://www.iucnredlist.org/
- Gregg et al. (2020) Many IUCN red list species have names that evoke negative emotions. Human Dimensions of Wildlife
- Albert et al. (2018) The twenty most charismatic species
- Kontoleon A & Swanson T. (2003) The Willingness to Pay for Property Rights for the Giant Panda: Can a Charismatic Species Be an Instrument for Nature Conservation? Land Econ. 2003;79: 483–499.