Discussions at the 2012 Wildlife Tourism Workshop

Discussions at the 2012 Wildlife Tourism Workshop

The following are the lead-ins to discussions at the workshop: Using Wildlife for Tourism: Opportunities, Threats, Responsibilities.  Links from here lead to some of the proceedings from each and further associated links, and can also be viewed under our Discussions menu. You may extend these discussions by adding to the comments below each linked page.

Discussion – Value of Wildlife Tourism (2 of the 4 breakout discussion groups)

The value of wildlife tourism to Australia’s economy and environment

Moderator Angus M. Robinson, Leisure Solutions® and Board Member, Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife

Australia may well boast lovely white beaches and fine hotels, but so do other countries. Nowhere else however do you find wild koalas, kangaroos, wombats, numbats, platypus, lyrebirds, leafy sea-dragons and a host of other fascinating creatures. Australia also offers the experience of diving in the world’s largest coral reef, miles of safe walking tracks through rainforests or the uniquely-Australian eucalypt forests, swimming with the world’s largest fish, camping out in the wide open spaces of the outback roamed by the world’s largest marsupial and second-largest bird, a greater diversity of parrots than anywhere outside of South America, most of the world’s wild cockatoos and many other special things to do that involve wildlife. How important then is our wildlife to international and domestic tourism, and thus to both the Australian economy and the livelihood of individual tourism businesses?
Participants will discuss the following:

  • Does wildlife tourism in Australia tend to be under-valued, e.g. by some tourism organizations and government departments?
  • Could better recognition of its value assist both with conservation of wildlife and their habitats and assistance to small businesses focusing on wildlife tourism?
  • What do we know already about the value of wildlife tourism to Australia?
  • What might we need further research on to enhance our understanding of its value?
  • What are some of our major untapped potential wildlife experiences, and are there obstacles to implementing or marketing these?
  • Are there ways in which government or tourism organizations could assist more than they currently do with the promotion of wildlife tourism? If so, what messages should WTA and others be sending to them at this stage?
  • Any other relevant points to be made?

Small business finances relevant to wildlife tourism: Insurance, licenses, promotion etc.

Moderator Ronda Green, chair WTA, with assistance from Rod Hughes (OAMPS), Barry Davies (Gondwana Guides) and Denise Goodfellow


Insurance premiums sky-rocketed after certain trends in litigation and the collapse of insurer HIH, perhaps exacerbated by the fall of the twin towers, and a number of small businesses collapsed. Several people working as solo guides simply cannot afford the insurance to keep operating each year, and many other potential or actual small businesses are in a similar situation. WTA has in the past engaged in discussions with insurance brokers to ascertain whether groups of small operators could take out a group insurance, in similar fashion to other groups (such as football teams) but has generally been advised it is not possible because of the great variation in risk between different kinds of activity.

We have also investigated whether we can co-insure farmers in our tourism policies (similar to the co-insurance with national parks when leading tours into these) such that we can pay farmers for the privilege of taking small groups of tourists onto their properties.  The philosophy behind this is that (1) it opens up more potential for tours, (2) it helps to take the pressure off national parks and (3) our national parks will never be enough to conserve all biodiversity, so we must conserve as much as possible on private lands, but when farmers are penalized rather than rewarded it is understandable that we do not always find full cooperation in this. Arranging insurance to satisfy the first two goals is fairly straightforward, but WTA has been advised in the past that if we are to pay the farmers, the framers will themselves need to take out expensive insurance premiums, which defeats the purpose of trying to set-up this ‘user-pays’ system. However, our insurance adviser Rod Hughes, who will be participating in this discussion, considers the above to be possible, and will also be on hand to answer other queries about insurance

Questions to consider:

  • Is it possible for a group such as WTA members to obtain a group deal on insurance to reduce premiums?  What would we need to do to achieve this?
  • Is it possible for tour operators to co-insure farmers whose properties they pay to take guests, thus providing a benefit for farmers who leave wildlife and native habitats on their property without making it necessary for them to pay expensive premiums?
  • Other insurance queries?
  • Are there ways in which government could assist with an easing of premiums for both tourism operators and farmers (either financially or through legislation)?


From Barry Davies:

“We all find it difficult and expensive dealing with government agencies in our own states. For small operators the costs and complications make it almost prohibitive and quite frankly if it wasn’t a lifestyle choice most would be better off working for someone else. However, if it is difficult intrastate it becomes a lot more complex and expensive working interstate. Each state has its own system of licensing transport operators and issuing passenger authorities. Whilst there are federal regulations governing the heavy transport industry these don’t apply to tourism operators. How do we go about getting a nationally recognized transport accreditation for tourism operators?

Questions to consider:

  • What are some of the major bureaucratic hurdles for tourism businesses, especially small businesses, in providing quality wildlife experiences
  • What are some of the major bureaucratic hurdles for tourism businesses, especially small businesses, to keep costs down so they can continue to be viable?
  • Are there ways in which government could assist with a streamlining of bureaucracy for tourism businesses (e.g. getting a nationally recognized transport accreditation for tourism operators, other streamlining, more accessible information on requirements)
  • What are some of the dangers of making it too easy (e.g. easing restrictions that could result in more environmental impact)?

Low-cost promotion

Tourism has been through some tough times lately, and some methods of promotion get very expensive without adequate return.  For the use of media and online social media, wildlife tourism operations should be at somewhat of an advantage to some of the more general tourism, as the wildlife itself should be generally more attention-grabbing than hotel beds or swimming pools, but what are the best ways of doing this, and what are the taboos?

Questions to consider:

  •  Using the media (press releases etc.) to promote an interest in seeing wildlife in general and individua businesses
  • How to most effectively use word of mouth
  • Should you reward guests for recommending your product or does this make it seem less genuine?
  • What are some of the more effective ways of using social media, and what are the taboos on these?

Using wildlife to value-add to tours and accommodation

Moderator Barry Davies, Gondwana Guides

Some tour operations focus almost exclusively on wildlife (e.g. birdwatching tours, kayaking with dolphins, penguin parade).

Other more general tours and accommodations use one or more wildlife experiences to value-add (e.g. farmstays that promote watching for kangaroos coming to graze in the paddocks, B&Bs that advertise good birdwatching along the neighbouring creek, tours that call in to see a koala park or glow worm cave amidst other attractions.

Questions for discussion:

  • What un-tapped potential do you see for more general tourism to use wildlife to add value to the experience?
  • What pitfalls can you see associated with this? Is there for instance a danger of really poor interpretation by guides with little understanding of the animals they are pointing out?
  • What can we do to remedy such problems?
  • Any other issues that arise during discussion, and actions WTA could take to assist?

The Repositioning of Zoos as Conservation Organisations

Moderator, Larry Perry, Southern Cross University

The primary purpose of zoos may once have been entertainment, and are still seen as such by some visitors, but nowadays they tend also to be expected to be involved in education, conservation and research.

Pease refer to the abstract by Larry Perry for his paper, which will be presented earlier on the day of this discussion.

Questions for discussion:

  • What do you understand to be the roles of zoos today?
  • What do you understand to be the role of conservation within a zoo context?
  • How aware are you of the repositioning of zoos as conservation organisations?
  • How do you define and evaluate the reputation of zoos as conservation organisations?
  • How do you perceive the credibility of zoos as conservation organisations?
  • Are zoos on the right track or could/should they be reinvented?

See also https://www.wildlifetourism.org.au/blog/wildlife-tourism-workshop-2012/themes-for-workshop/roles-and-responsibilities-of-zoos/

The three-way marriage of conservation, research and tourism

Moderator Dr. Peter Wood, James Cook University

Please see the abstract of the paper Peter will be presenting earlier on the day on forming a network of marine wildlife tourism operators involved in research.

Tourism operators frequently venture into regions of natural habitat and see wildlife (marine, terrestrial or freshwater) involved in all kinds of behaviour and often in a variety of locations. There is thus much scope for them to be involved in conservation-related research, from simple records of presence/absence which can be added to a general database of distribution and show patterns of change from season to season, year to year or ultimately decade to decade, through to more complex records of animal behaviour and ecological interactions. A number of tour operators are already involved in various levels of research, but often only vaguely aware of each others’ existence, if at all. This discussion looks at ways of developing a truly cooperative network of operators interested in adding to our basic knowledge of wildlife behaviour and ecology or to information more deliberately directed towards what is needed for conservation management (e.g. migrations, population changes or feeding behaviour of rare and threatened species).

Questions for discussion:

  • What are some of the things we really need to know for effective conservation management?
  • What are some of the ways that tour operators, eco-accommodation providers and staff of wildlife parks and zoos could reasonably add to these questions (given the inevitable time constraints and other duties)?
  • How can academic researchers and tour operators best combine their expertise, opportunities and goals to pursue some of these questions?
  • What are some of the barriers to cooperation between operators and between operators and researchers and/or conservation managers, and how might these be overcome?
  • Would you like to be part of a cooperative networking group (or a subgroup such as marine wildlife tourism) working towards such aims? If so, how would you see yourself contributing?
  • What would we need to do to really make such a network effective?

Emerging threats to wildlife and tourism

Moderator Ronda Green, proprietor Araucaria Ecotours, adjunct research fellow Griffith University and Chair WTA

Some potential changes over the coming years and decades could pose threats to both wildlife or to the tourism that depends on it, or to both, including:

  • Continued habitat loss and modification
  • Over-fishing, excessive or irresponsible hunting and collection
  • Population increases leading to spread of urbanization and resultant supporting industries, agriculture and water storage
  • The mining boom – including open cut mines, fracking, dredging and oil extraction
  • Climate change
  • Economic factors affecting efficient running of wildlife tourism operations, visitation by tourists and effectiveness of conservation measures
  • Pressures of tourism itself (even wildlife tourism)

Questions for discussion:

  • Can you offer concrete examples of any or all of the above affecting wildlife or wildlife tourism?
  • What in general do you see as the most pressing problems in the next couple of decades?
  • What could government be doing to alleviate some of these problems?
  • What can those of us in the wildlife tourism industry or research institutions do to alleviate some of these problems?
  • How can WTA assist? What information or lobbying for example should we get involved in presenting to government, tourism organizations or leaders of other businesses? How best do we disseminate genuine information connected with these issues, and to whom should we be presenting the information?

Providing high-quality memorable wildlife experiences

Moderator Dr Ronda Green, chair WTA

Dr Roy Ballantyne and his colleagues have produced some constructive papers on providing memorable experiences for tourists that lead to enhanced understanding and concern for some of the conservation issues facing the wildlife viewed by them and there have been a number of valuable reports by Gianna Moscardo and others for the wildlife sector of the Sustainable Tourism CRC on visitor attitudes and satisfaction. There is also much unpublished information and ideas amongst tourism operators and other educators. While some ideas may be guarded because those working in tourism are after all in a competitive situation, there is much we can learn from each other, and there is potential for working together to generally raise the standard of wildlife tourism in our country and to provide the kind of interpretation that truly inspires our tourists to take a real interest in the animals they see, and a concern for conservation issues. We must remember they are on holiday and don’t want too much gloomy talk, but at the same time there has been increasing interest in the environment, and some studies (e.g. at Taronga Zoo) have shown that visitors do want to learn something of the environmental issues that threaten the animals they care about. So how do we provide the ‘wow’ experiences that bring enjoyment and a sense of wonder and get people talking (always a good thing for business) and also to use these moments to get across an awareness and understanding of some conservation issues and actually alter some aspects of our visitors’ lives, whether it leads them to find more information, stop throwing out rubbish and pollutants that could harm wildlife and habitats, refuse to buy wildlife-unfriendly products, donate to conservation projects, design more environmentally-friendly ways of conducting their businesses, lobby the government or?

Questions for discussion:

  • What have been some of the ‘wow’ moments in your own life involving wildlife?
  • Are there some common themes we can identify that can help us reproduce such moments for tourists?
  • Can you recall some ‘aha’ moments when you suddenly realized the extent of a conservation problem?
  • Can you cite some examples of good guiding practice that has enabled special moments of wonder or insights into conservation issues?
  • Have you seen examples of wasted opportunities, where experiences could have been improved by better action or interpretation?
  • How do we reach people of differing attitudes and backgrounds?
  • What are some overall guidelines and information sources we can provide for tour guides and other nature interpreters?

Wildlife interpretation for different kinds of visitor

Moderator Barry Davies, Gondwana Guides

Tour operators face many challenges. How do we present interpretation to a group which includes a professor from Oxford University, other fluent English speakers, and people from different parts of Asia who understand very little English? How do we best cater for people with disabilities, including the obvious ones of confinement to wheelchairs or use of crutches and obvious obesity to the more hidden ailments of severe chronic asthma, short-sightedness, epilepsy and diabetes? What about mental disabilities? Cultural differences? Catering for people who have camped in wilderness all their lives and those who have never really been out of a city before, especially at night, and find the new experiences un-nerving? Mixed groups that include children, teenagers, and various ages of adults? Novice birdwatchers and highly-experienced ones, perhaps also mixed in with people who really just want to be there for the scenery or hiking and get annoyed at frequent stops for viewing every possible bird? How, generally, can we give each of them the best possible tourism experience?

We also hear some horror stories of people with disabilities, language problems or cultural differences not being not being well-cared for by our airlines or coach companies. How much does this affect heir general enjoyment of our country or region, and what can we in the tourism industry do about this?

Questions for discussion:

  • What are some of your experiences of being part of a tour where your needs or those of others were not well attended to?
  • What are some examples you’ve seen where people from different backgrounds were in fact very well taken care of?
  • If you have had experience of leading groups, what is some of the advice you can offer?
  • What are some of the guidelines we could offer on our website to assist guides in giving high-quality experiences to people of varying backgrounds and with various disabilities or other challenges?
  • Are there some issues we need to inform or lobby government about or suggest to other factions of the tourism industry?
  • Any other points of discussion?

Environmental ethics and wildlife tourism

Moderator Dr Leah Burns, Griffith University
Can we apply a set of principles to all wildlife tourism situations that will enhance outcomes for all key stakeholders? Given the many different types of tourists, of wildlife, and the many different forms wildlife tourism takes this would seem an impossible task. Enhanced conservation is a commonly acknowledged goal of many forms of wildlife tourism, but how can this be achieved?
The theme of environmental ethics – focusing on what relationships humans do have, and should have, with the natural world – may be a useful topic for wildlife tourism managers to consider. Can an exploration of different ethical perspectives assist us in a goal of wildlife conservation through tourism?
The aim of this workshop is to discuss underlying philosophies that guide the management of wildlife tourism ventures. Participants will be asked to draw on evidence from policies, plans and practices with which they are familiar. Can we find commonality in these? Where differences exist, are these necessarily barriers to shared goals? Considering ethical perspectives along a continuum from those that are more anthropocentric to those that are more ecocentric, where can we place wildlife tourism? Ideally? Practically?