Whale-watching tour in Húsavík (Iceland). Information on cetacean conservation and threats to the marine environment is argued to be limited in many whale-watching tours. Credit: Á. Fernández-Llamazares.

Read the article here and University of Helsinki press release here.

Wildlife-based tourism is one of the most rapidly growing markets on the planet. There is growing research evidence showing that wildlife-based tourism can help to transform the environmental knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of tourists through first-hand encounters with wildlife, complemented by effective conservation messaging, such as environmental education on conservation issues. However, such conservation messaging is not always a priority for many wildlife-based tourism operators, who often fail to encourage powerful bonds between people and wildlife by means of well-designed environmental interpretations.

In this paper, we argue that wildlife-based tourism operators should be key partners in educating and inspiring people to take informed conservation action, and that failing to encourage tourists to do more on behalf of wildlife represents a missed opportunity for conservation. Although there is no quantification of the extent to which conservation messaging is lacking from wildlife-based tours, examples and case studies from all over the world show clearly that many venues fail to give information on wildlife conservation and opportunities for tourists to engage in conservation action.

Alternative forms of communicating conservation-related messages are opening new avenues to broaden the potential of wildlife-based tourism. For example, empirical research shows that combining the emotional response of viewing wildlife with the educational benefits of a tailored interpretive programme provides tourism operators with numerous opportunities to cultivate the conservation potential of a tourism experience.

We therefore introduce a toolbox of ideas for improving the implementation of conservation messaging in wildlife-based tourism operations, based on five principles: promote positive messaging, foster long-term interactions, provide actionable information, engage tourists in research and practice, and link experiences with consumption choices. These ideas focus on amplifying emotional engagement among tourists participating in wildlife-based tours, and on empowering them to take purposeful conservation action. We argue that the combination of emotional engagement and knowledge-driven actions provided by wildlife-based tours will pave the way for a new era of conservation-oriented tourism.