Sustainable Tourism is not only a way for travelers to experience unique destinations and cultures from all around the world, but also a powerful economic tool that can have a positive social and environmental impact. Tourism can stimulate sustainable economic growth, bring utilities and infrastructure to poorer areas, act as an engine for employment generation, contribute to the upkeep of parks and protected areas, and so much more.

Today is World Tourism Day, which was first recognized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization on September 27th, 1980. This year, World Tourism Day focuses on Sustainable Tourism, which is in line with the 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Tour guides play an essential role in communicating the importance of our ecosystems to travelers, with the hopes that those travelers will go on to make meaningful changes in their daily lives.

In the Galapagos Islands, guides are certified by the National Park and play a crucial role in preserving the islands’ pristine environment. “The 700+ naturalist guides play a key role in monitoring the protected areas of the Galapagos. The Galapagos Guide’s Monitoring Network is a virtual platform created in 2016 by WWF together with the Galapagos National Park, that allows the guides to provide essential information for the management and conservation of the protected areas of the Galapagos. The guides monitor the state of conservation of species and ecosystems, the condition of tourism infrastructure, or potential threats to the ecosystems of the Galapagos such as invasive species,” explains Juan Carlos Garcia of WWF-Ecuador. The Monitoring Network consolidates and analyzes the guides’ reports on the 169 visitor sites of the Archipelago. A massive undertaking, and one that is working quite well.

© Jessica Sotelo / WWF

This has been a huge upgrade from the previous reporting system, where reports were handwritten and submitted manually. Joseline Cardoso, a licensed Galapagos guide and Natural Habitat Adventures Expedition Leader since 2005, believes that this network is an effective way for guides to share information about the islands and improves the ability for guides to be conservation advocates. “The National Park and the Ministry of Tourism collect the information reported by the guides, summarize the information, and then share the observations with all the guides. The report helps different institutions keep track of flora and fauna, and it helps managers of the National Park”, says Cardoso.

Joseline Cardoso, a licensed Galapagos guide and Natural Habitat Adventure Expedition Leader since 2005. © Suzanne Kiser/NHA

Not only are the Galapagos Islands adopters of this unique networking platform, but they also have an innovative guide training program. Spearheaded by the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), the training program’s goal is to allow guides to train other guides in universal best practices for guiding, with a focus on using conservation as a predominant theme when working with visitors. Cardoso believes this way of communication is highly effective because it allows guides “to explain the importance of conservation to the guests without telling them what to do or what to think. The main thing is to provoke thinking about our fragile ecosystem, so that when they go home, they may make small adjustments to their way of living.”

Guides also work with National Parks to organize talks led by key scientists. Cardoso explains that it’s mandatory for every scientist who comes to the Galapagos to do research and to share their knowledge. “In that process, they organize these talks which are open to all the guides and community members who are interested in coming,” she says.

Around the world guides play a key role as conservation advocates, and in the Galapagos Islands, park management has recognized and harnessed the capability of guides as the eyes and ears on the ground, to keep tourism in the islands sustainable.

© Karl Egloff / WWF

Travel to the Galapagos with NHA & WWF

By Alex Muir, WWF