Talking Point: How hotels can help encourage ecotourism

Volunteers set up a moth trap for studying and releasing

Volunteers set up a moth trap for studying and releasing

In this Talking Point blog, Andy Jefferies founder of Wild Days describes how hotels can attract guests with a desire for experiences and to make a positive impact, whilst also helping their local ecosystem.

In the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, hotels are increasingly aware of guests seeking holidays that offer them interesting experiences but also allow them to have a positive impact in some way. The recent IHG trends report highlights the current theme of ‘responsible individualism’ whereby ‘it’s not enough just to give, it is important to make a difference by giving back. Involvement is key, with tourists preferring to be a participator over a spectator’.

Internationally, there has been a huge appetite for wildlife volunteering and conservation holidays, with organisations such as Earthwatch, Biosphere Expeditions and Blue Ventures building fully-accommodated wildlife research trips with a strong focus on benefiting nature. By partnering with organisations like this, hotels can not only offer guests something different and memorable, they can also improve their CSR as responsible businesses.

In the UK there have been fewer opportunities for visitors to have hands-on wildlife experiences, but tourists coming to the UK may be just as likely to want to give something back as they are to want to visit Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.

One potential partner for hotels seeking to offer guests new experiences is Wild Days which has successfully launched an exemplary programme of UK wildlife conservation holidays, beginning last year in support of the work of England’s Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB and Suffolk District Council.

The Wild Days conservation approach is to create British holiday experiences that match the standards of quality tourist experiences around the world, including comfortable accommodation, a focus on good local food and inspiring opportunities to experience wildlife first hand whilst contributing to vital research.

Hotels can get involved by supporting local wildlife conservation organisations in their location that offer guests unique experiences and which also help them to preserve the environment.

It’s very clear to me that the Millennials and Gen Y tourists want to do something useful to help nature but are struggling to find UK holidays that make a positive contribution to conservation. ‘This is exactly what I’ve been looking for’ is typical feedback we get from the people taking part in our eco holidays.

In order to echo their customer’s passion for environmental issues, hotels could research wildlife campaigns, groups and projects in their local area and offer collaboration as part of a package. Here are some good places to get started:

The Wildlife Trusts  National Trust  Natural England  National Parks  Areas Of Natural Beauty – Landscapes for life  The Conservation Volunteers  The Mammal Society  Earthwatch

The 2016 State of Nature report shows that now, more than ever, there’s a need for active nature conservation in the UK on a large scale and that everyone can get involved. Citizen science has burgeoned in Britain, with volunteers contributing to scientific understanding and generating a staggering 4.5 million wildlife observations annually. There are currently more than 200 voluntary wildlife-recording initiatives across the UK such as: Zooniverse, Beachwatch, Big Seaweed Search etc. It is worth hotels looking up their local citizen science projects – wherever they are in the world - and making a feature of them to enhance their guests’ experience.

Hotels could also increase their appeal to responsible tourists by highlighting their sustainability policies and offering suggestions on how to connect visiting children with nature (for inspiration visit Wildlife Watch and The Wild Network).

The UK is currently one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world - all the more reason that ecotourism should be scaled-up across the nation.

Development of high quality ecotourism in the UK is long-overdue; the need is greater than ever and conditions are ripe right now. Ecotourism in Britain is ready to move from niche to mainstream and in the process make a real difference to our environment.

Read more on Wild Days eco holidays and wildlife conservation.

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