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By Danna Moore, Director of Global Operations, Project AWARE®
Eco-tourism is defined as environmentally and socially responsible travel, and dive operators are well positioned to provide services for this growing market. With continued threats to our ocean planet, it’s appropriate for the dive industry to encourage and inspire divers to travel responsibly and protect what they love. In areas where poor business practices and unchecked tourism development are damaging sensitive marine habits, divers have the economic strength and personal passion to make changes by demanding sustainable practices. As a dive professional, you can be an eco-operator who leverages your customers’ economic power to support ecologically friendly businesses, while encouraging others to follow your lead.
Consumer Demand Already Exists
A 2017 study by Unilever, a consumer goods company focused on sustainability, revealed that 33 percent of consumers are now buying from brands based on their social and environmental effects. Customers, especially those in younger demographics, leverage their purchasing power to encourage businesses to make sustainability part of their operations; those that do stand apart in the market from those that ignore consumer concern for the global environment.
At Project AWARE, we’ve heard first-hand that divers choose 100% AWARE partners because they support conservation and protecting the environment. As these partnerships grow, so does the demand for a healthy environment. This means we must continue to reward responsible operators with new and returning customers, and those businesses in turn must continue to “up their game” with respect to sustainability, protection and restoration.
Divers Want to Participate
Beyond choosing sustainable operators, divers show increasing interest in participating in community actions while they travel. Many markets serve this growing demand by providing conservation courses and events that build a sense of community during their stay.
For example, partnered with the Curaçao Hospitality and Tourism Association, the Curaçao Dive Task Force marketed their annual World Cleanup Day event, attracting more than 140 divers across 18 dive centers to participate in 2018. The engagement didn’t stop after the event, however. Recognizing the link between conservation action and tourism growth, Curaçao divers have adopted more than 12 individual dive sites for debris collection year-round, as of this writing.
Other dive operators have tapped into this growing market by selling travel packs with a conservation angle. Brad Snyder, owner of Float N’ Flag in Ontario, Canada, successfully ran off-season warm-water trips by embedding an eco-theme through Dive Against Debris® and shark and ray conservation. “It gives people a secondary objective for the dive, helps keep our dive sites clean, and through the social media exposure broadens the impact of the activity,” Snyder says. These trips, along with continuous conservation events locally, give Float N’ Flag divers a purpose, keep them diving throughout the year and bring in new divers who want to do business with environmentally -responsible operators.
Linking Demand to Supply
As consumers demand more and yet even more sustainable options, suppliers work to meet this growing demand. At present, “eco-tourism” is difficult to define and this definition often differs across regions and travel destinations. This however, provides us the opportunity to more closely define “sustainable dive operator” and an “eco-tourist diver.” This ability to help redefine things is a huge opportunity for community collaboration. Simply put, this is because community lies at the very heart of sustainability.
By connecting our communities, educating consumers, agreeing upon best practices and promoting -environmental stewards, we can create positive changes for the ocean. As Snyder from Float N’ Flag pointed out: “While one little dive shop in Ontario can only have a little impact, uniting similar-minded shops around the world is critical to make the results scalable.”
Many resources already at your fingertips were created by divers for divers:
- Responsible Shark & Ray Tourism Guide. Developed by Project AWARE, World Wildlife Foundation and Manta Trust, this guidebook provides practical, science-based information for shark and ray tourism operators who want to offer the best possible experience to their customers, while conserving species and habitats, and making a positive contribution to local communities.
- PADI Travel™. Global online travel platform and full-service team dedicated to providing top-notch travel services that inspire divers to explore more of the underwater world and take care of our oceans. To find eco offering, select the Eco Travel tab on the main PADI Travel page.
Based on an article that appeared in the First Quarter 2019 The Undersea Journal®