There have been a number of approaches to conserving wildlife, ranging from the protectionist ‘fences and fines’ to a more open-door ‘hearts and minds’ strategy aimed at fostering the support of neighbouring communites, in whose hands the future of wildlife must ultimately lie. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and to date none have been able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they are the final solution.
It is commonly agreed that tourism has a responsibility to nurture and develop host communities and wildlife. As a specialist tour operator Journeys by Design must make careful choices when identifying our partners on the ground. We bear great responsibility, particularly when introducing new areas and communities to commercial travel for the first time.
As travellers to the continent you unwittingly become a stakeholder. As the consumer you help drive local, often remote communities whose economies have become more cash dependent as a result of this exposure. However, seed investment for development, generated off the back of wildlife and tourism, surely brings the dream of harmony one step closer.
The answers to good neighbourly partnerships must surely lie in short-term incentives overlaid with a long-term education strategy designed to develop the innate fascination of nature held by children, at the same time as highlighting both the direct and subtler advantages of conservation. Self-sustaining local development initiatives, where tourism can stimulate the cash economy and support the very markets that these initiatives rely on, help provide longer-term tangible returns.
The role of the private sector is vital. Conservation, management of resources, development and training are all business models that have the potential to create wealth and have to be financially viable to be sustainable. They have to be managed in a proper business-like manner to provide incentives and returns for the managers at the same time as results for communities at the grass-roots. Whether in the city or the bush, if a business model does not work, then a project cannot be sustainable without external funding, which may not be available on a recurrent basis.
In practice, tourism is unlikely to be a reliable source of consistent, satisfactory, long-term income. Tourism is fickle: countries become insecure, interests wane, projects fold. Even if the local tourism model is a successful one, the average life expectancy of any successful business is about 30 years. Generations of communities and wildlife have longer-term, multi-generational requirements.
Ultimately, wildlife may only survive on private land with rich benefactors to oversee and subsidise costly management and security services – run on a professional and business footing.
Where the future lies we can only guess. However, one would assume that through a combination of sweat and toil, clear business strategy and communication, tourism must have a role to play in the sensitive, long term management of Africa’s dwindling resources and it is Journeys by Design's responsibility to support those that share the same vision.