I was lucky enough to attend the Born Free Foundation recently at the Royal Geographical Society in London, where a panel of experts gathered to discuss the tourism industry’s impact on wildlife and wildlife tourism. Given the tourism industry is the single biggest employer of people in the world, it has the potential for a huge impact on the natural world.
Whilst Steppes has been pioneering responsible wildlife tourism since 1997, including tracking gorillas in Rwanda, tiger safaris in India or Galapagos cruising, one of the members of the panel was quoted as saying “In five years’ time I’d like to think that we won’t be discussing sustainable tourism at all: it will just be part of the way we do business.” Sustainable tourism lies at the heart of what Steppes Wildlife does and indeed, was the reason the company was formed and to date we have raised nearly U$1 million for wildlife conservation through our clients who are looking to travel in a responsible way.
We were one of the first companies to include a compulsory payment to offset the carbon emission from long haul flights on all our tours, we were the first company to include a donation on all of our tours to raise funds for our host countries, one of the first to include a code of conduct for all our travellers and have won Responsible Tourism awards for our projects afar afield as trekking snow leopards in Ladakh and the first tour operator to be approached by the Uganda Wildlife Authorities to help habituate a group of gorillas for tourism.
However, we also act when required and after it was discovered that the Orca’s in the Fijords of Norway were showing signs of stress due to the high number of tourist boats (again we were one of the first in the area!) we made the informed decision to withdraw our tours with immediate effect, despite the obvious financial loss to us.
The tourism industry is changing and good to see that people are now realising something that we have always known . Responsible tourism is not a separate part of running a tour company or a compromise on the quality of the experience, but should be an intrinsic part of any tour.