Foreign travel is often criticised for its potential to harm the environment, and even ecotourism, or responsible tourism, falls under this spotlight. However, says Kristi Foster, Head of Engagement for Conservation Careers, ecotourism when done right can be a powerful tool to help both people and nature thrive, and jobs in ecotourism can be so rewarding.
Are you passionate about wildlife and worry about the impact we’re having on species and habitats? Do you wonder how – or even if – people and wildlife can coexist in harmony? If you’re reading this article, chances are you care deeply about wildlife and its future. But did you know that one of the best ways to help conserve wildlife is by (very respectfully) visiting it?
The preservation of many of the world’s most endangered species often depends on income responsible tourism brings to the countries where they live. Particularly now, when nature conservation has suffered as the wildlife tourism industry and people’s ability to work outside their homes has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
I want to explore just how ecotourism can contribute to wildlife conservation, and the diverse types of jobs that exist in the ecotourism sector, as well as the jobs that are on offer in conservation itself. Hopefully, this article will lead to you discovering and appreciating people doing work you hadn’t thought about while you’ve been enjoying a wildlife tour. Perhaps you’ll even consider taking on one of those jobs in ecotourism or conservation when you make your next career move!
Tourists experience the Serengeti, Tanzania on a guided tour. Credit: Hu Chen on Unsplash.
What is Ecotourism and How Does it Differ From Just Going on Holiday?
The term ‘eco’ is used in everything from household products to transportation, so let’s start by defining what ecotourism is – and why it’s worth supporting. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”.
“Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel” – TIES
In other words, true ecotourism not only aspires to have minimal impact socially, culturally, economically and environmentally but, more than that, it also aims to generate a positive benefit for nature and local communities.
In many parts of the world, ecotourism provides a financial incentive to conserve species and habitats. Photo Credit: Chastagner Thierry, Unsplash.
Ecotourism, or what some call responsible tourism, provides a powerful financial incentive to conserve species and habitats in some of the world’s most special places. It makes conservation part of a successful business model, rather than a luxury that relies on donations and goodwill and therefore risks being neglected.
In some parts of the world – such as African parks and conservancies, for example – ecotourism is often the best tool we have to ensure wildlife and habitats are protected from harm. Visitors come to see the animals but they are also exposed to the conservation work being done and the people involved.
As a result, they often become donors, not just of money but also of their time, raising awareness by spreading the word to friends and family and getting involved in fund-raising. For some, that holiday trip inspires them to become even more actively involved in volunteer work or seeking out a career in conservation.
When travel temporarily ground to a standstill in 2020, we saw this contribution more clearly than ever. Many parks and conservancies in Africa that rely on ecotourism and volunteers to fund conservation work – paying for rangers and anti-poaching patrols, for instance – could no longer continue their vital work and conservation projects had to be shelved.
Ecotourism can also have a less tangible yet far wider-reaching impact. Experiencing wildlife and landscapes in person often motivates visitors to make positive changes in their lives and their communities, multiplying wildlife conservation’s impact across the globe.
Jobs in Ecotourism and Conservation
If ecotourism is so valuable for people and planet, who are its faces – the people who help conserve and enhance wildlife and habitats through hosting visitors? You might be surprised to learn that ecotourism is an uber-diverse and exciting sector of the travel industry, home to nearly all 15 key conservation job types.
So while tourism business owners and guides might be what immediately come to mind, ecotourism jobs are actually far more diverse. For example, when we visit parks and other protected areas, it’s thanks to rangers, wardens and conservation officers that these special places remain healthy and safe.
Rangers work right at the frontlines of conservation, managing both habitats and visitor experiences. Their duties might range from writing management plans and carrying out site management, to directing volunteers and ensuring a good experience for guests.
On true ecotours, wildlife encounters aren’t always guaranteed, but that makes them all the more spectacular when they happen. Photo Credit: Brent Jones, Unsplash.
Then there are the people who live near or within parks and protected areas. While tourists visit the world’s most breathtaking natural attractions, it’s easy to forget that the local people who live near them in Africa, Asia, Europe or Latin America may be struggling just to make ends meet.
These local people often have very few economic opportunities apart from environmentally destructive practices such as logging, hunting or mining. Community officers understand local communities’ needs and can help empower them to engage in and benefit from ecotourism.
Extending out of responsible travel, but still closely linked to it, are many jobs that fall under the umbrella of conservation. Perhaps you enjoy writing a blog? Conservation relies on good communication so you could get involved in identifying and developing stories to pass on the message in print, online, via radio, TV or social media.
Do you enjoy interacting with people? Education is a big part of raising awareness about environments and the needs of nature. Or maybe you prefer being outdoors and working with your hands, in which case a role in land management or surveying a marine environment could be some of the choices open to you.
These sorts of roles are on top of particular qualifications you may have in a great many areas which could be used for the benefit of wildlife – legal knowledge, veterinary skills, technical knowhow, teaching ability, photography and film-making expertise, species identification – the list is practically endless. Just about every aspect of anyone’s life and work experiences could contribute to a volunteering role or a career in conservation.
A whale shark swims under an Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks boat on Ningaloo Reef. Photo Credit: @kissthedolphin.
A Snapshot of Jobs in Ecotourism
Here’s a sample of some of the many types of jobs that support conservation.
- Animal Welfare – Professionals such as veterinarians support animal rescue, recovery and release centres that are open to tourists.
- Communications and Marketing – Communications and marketing professionals, bloggers and other creative, savvy communicators help engage tourists in ecotourism.
- Environmental Economics & Ecosystem Assessment – Environmental economists help put a monetary value on the impact of ecotourism for nature and people.
- Environmental Education – Educators, guides, naturalists, interpreters and others help guests experience nature, while raising awareness and support for conservation.
- Fundraising & Development – These professionals help organisations carry out (and carry on) vital conservation work, often complementing income from tourism.
- Marine Ecotourism – Scuba instructors, marine ecologists and others help people experience and protect our blue planet.
- Photography and Film-making – These visual storytellers inspire us to engage in ecotourism and conservation from afar – or even lead specialised photography tours.
- Policy & Advocacy – Many ecotourism organisations provide data (including citizen science data) to local governments to help inform conservation decision-making.
- Science & Research – Field assistants, researchers and others help design or carry out the research that ecotourism supports.
In addition to these key jobs, there are other sub sectors unique to ecotourism.
- Guiding – Guides such as James Lowen and Alyssa Adler help tourists discover or deepen their connection with nature through education, interpretation and storytelling.
- Consulting / Certification – These professionals help destinations or businesses minimise negative impacts and maximise positive benefits for wildlife and habitats.
- Lodge / Base Camp / Research Station Manager – These jacks-of-all-trades take care of everything from guest safety and satisfaction, to operations and staffing.
- Sales Manager – These managers ensure guests continue to visit to provide reliable alternative livelihood opportunities for local people.
- Destination Manager – These managers look beyond single trips, to manage tourism destinations in sustainable ways that maximise benefits to people and nature.
- Business Owner – The owners of responsible tourism businesses have the vision and drive to create your tour experience.
- And many more – Drivers, cooks, housekeepers, accountants and many other professions are essential to making ecotourism a success.
Do You Want to Help Conserve Wildlife?
For your next wildlife holiday, why not choose a tour that supports both conservation and local communities? And while you’re enjoying your responsible tourism experience, look out for how many different people are involved in conserving wildlife through ecotourism.
Or, if you’re curious about combining conservation and travel in your own career, check out this Ultimate Guide to Careers in Ecotourism to explore job types you could consider for your next career move, or search responsible tourism jobs and conservation jobs from across the globe!
Kristi Foster is Head of Engagement for Conservation Careers, a top career advice centre for conservationists – helping over 440,000 conservationists in 178 countries across the globe achieve career success through resources like its conservation jobs board. Conservation Careers believes that all wildlife is beautiful and that it deserves great conservationists working to protect it. Main image courtesy of NATUCATE
Author: Kristi Foster, Conservation Careers
Published on: 3rd February 2021