Don’t get me wrong. As a conservationist and sustainable tourism expert, I am an advocate for a more responsible approach to tourism. Although I began my career as a wildlife ecologist, my work in the tourism industry is focused on transforming travel to be more environmentally friendly. While I recognize that flying is harmful to the climate, I also know what will happen if, in their understandable concern for climate change, travelers stop booking trips to go on a wildlife safari to Africa or decide to forgo that bucket list vacation to South America. Conservation and poverty alleviation will suffer twin blows.
By 2030, tourism to Africa is projected to generate more than $260 billion annually. Subtract that from Africa’s economy and not only will it plunge an entire continent into more poverty (millions of Africans rely on tourism as their economic lifeline), but it will also undermine hard-won efforts to protect some of the world’s most endangered species. Save the elephants? Forget about it. Rhinos, ditto.
Some tour operators are directly protecting millions of acres of endangered species habitat, among the last strongholds for rhinos and elephants. Others are helping to fund conservation work to save lions, leopards and cheetahs.
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