The Adventure Travel Guide Standard: Facilitating Responsible Travel

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

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:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Technical Skills
  3. Safety and Risk Management
  4. Customer Service and Group Management
  5. 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.

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Daniel Turner, Director ANIMONDIAL

Time to Build Back Better for Animals

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.

4. Invest-in-Nature

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.

Contact us to find out more about “Build Back Better for Animals”, and why not sign up to our free monthly e-newsletter!

Daniel Turner, Director ANIMONDIAL

Could a non-charismatic species encourage Nature Conservation?

Photo: SharkSchool

Photo: SharkSchool

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.


  1. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ https://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Gregg et al. (2020) Many IUCN red list species have names that evoke negative emotions. Human Dimensions of Wildlife
  3. Albert et al. (2018) The twenty most charismatic species
  4. 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.

Daniel Turner, Director ANIMONDIAL