World Tourism Day Message from the Atta Responsible Tourism Advisor
We are not just celebrating World Tourism Day this week, but also World Rhino Day, one of many dedicated days now firmly entrenched in the conservation calendar; As I reflect on the Atta mission statement, ‘advancing travel to Africa’, it seems that as an organisation it has become increasingly difficult to continue in a ‘business as usual’ fashion as wildlife trafficking continues to increase. The cold reality is that it will soon begin to erode our livelihoods and undermine tourism by taking away the very reasons visitors want to come to this awesome continent.
Initially it was South Africa that was the main target, but now other countries are experiencing the onslaught of well-organised and financed poaching, and are scrambling to build their defences. It is no longer just rhinos that are on the shopping list, it is growing numbers of elephants, lions, sharks and abalone to name but a few of our favourite icons that have always graced romantic African landscapes. As a result our environmental capital is threatened and with it every member’s earnings capacity from tourism. The disappearance of the big animals will be noticeable, but it is also the fascinating reptiles and lesser-known species that don’t have the same street cred, yet play a big part in maintaining healthy eco systems that are the invisible victims. Actually it is the little things that are the big things, especially on a continent that is primary guardian of the world’s biodiversity.
Governments across the world have recognised the potential of tourism to drive economic and social change. It is important that we all realise wildlife poaching is a socio-economic problem, and one that tourism product owners can impact positively by reaching out to the communities around them and including local people in the business philosophy. Not just with employment opportunities, but in the planning processes, engaging communities with education and dialogue.
Tourism has a dynamic momentum of its own that can change lives and help to protect environments. It is heartening to see a growing number of Atta members are already making a positive difference in the regions in which they operate. Atta has the potential to play a role too, by using its position to raise awareness of responsible tourism and the rewards it can bring, as well as supporting its members with their challenges to make things happen.
This year the UK government hosted the first London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trafficking to show its commitment to assist with tackling a growing problem, drawing in government representatives from African countries affected by poaching. Planning for the next conference is already underway and is scheduled to take place in Botswana in March 2015 – on our doorstep.
Tourism can be a powerful force for good, if it is managed responsibly, and this message is the silver lining this World Tourism Day. As superman said: “with great power comes great responsibility”. Atta as an organisation, as well as its members can choose to get involved in responsible tourism for the greater good. If we don’t, then it’s just a matter of time before the there is no longer a reason for people to visit Africa. It’s time for all of us in Atta to step up and examine what we can each do and pledge our commitment to a collaborative responsibility if we are to continue with our good intention to ‘advance travel to Africa’.
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