Build Back Better: can sustainable tourism regenerate nature?

Tropical frog

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

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