Asking Visitors to Pay for Conservation, J Kohl

Tags: Lindblad Expeditions, Galapagos Conservation Fund, Mexican Fund for Nature Conservation, Lindblad, Laila Dawson, Galapagos Islands, Interpretation, World Travel and Tourism Council, conservation, patrol boats, Alaska Whale Foundation, The Conference Board, Tom O'Brien, SECONDARY MESSAGES, the Galapagos, Galapagos National Park, Galapagos, Freeman Tilden, endemic species, naturalist, Sarah Jennings, environmental education programs
Content: the international INTERPRETER
Jon Kohl Asking Visitors to Pay for Conservation 40 May . June 2003
TO U R I S M P E O P L E O F T E N don't credit interpretation with more than helping tourists understand or appreciate. But if they knew how much credit Lindblad Expeditions gets from interpretation, they would be reading Freeman Tilden in a snap. This naturalist cruise ship operator uses interpretation to generate more than $2,000 per week for the Galapagos Conservation Fund. That equals some $1.5 million in visitor donations in five years. I have asked Sarah Jennings, an interpreter and family coordinator for Lindblad Expeditions, to describe what happens on the multiday tours. Everyone gets introduced to the wildlife through walks and snorkeling. During the walks naturalists talk about endemic species like marine iguanas and lava herons. Many guests have never heard the term `endemic' before. On the walks, naturalists share their enthusiasm and knowledge of animals. Everyone loves the blue-footed boobies and the waved albatross. Everyone also loves snorkeling with sea lions. People bring their cameras and take underwater pictures of sea lions and sometimes even the Galapagos penguins. People's appreciation for the islands grows with each outing. Then halfway through the expedition, we visit the Charles Darwin Research Station on the island of Santa Cruz. Carlos, a naturalist, explains that for him, the research station is the most important stop during the week. Throughout the walk, he discusses what the research station has been doing to protect the islands. Roslyn Cameron, who is the coordinator of Public support for the Charles Darwin Research Station, comes on board in the evening. She gives a presentation about the problems associated with goats and other introduced species
on Santiago. Most passengers start out not understanding why goats need to be killed. People do not understand the devastation goats cause to island vegetation and wildlife. Toward the end of the week, the expedition leader gives a short presentation about how people can become a "Friend of the Galapagos." Lindblad Expeditions represents only five percent of the tourists, but the company has raised more than all of the other tour operators combined. The guests on board learn that Sven Lindblad will give a matching $250 voucher toward a future Lindblad trip if individuals donate $250 to the Charles Darwin Foundation. People traveling with the company are usually glad to know that the company has a strong commitment to the destinations we visit. Now what is really going on behind the interpretive scenes? Well, in 1997 the tour company teamed up with Sam Ham of the University of Idaho to create a message-based interpretive program that promotes visitors' contributions to the fund, managed by the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos as well as Galapagos National Park itself. The interpretive program involves hooking visitors with pre-cruise materials, tours of the Galapagos, written materials on board, a well-timed solicitation in the form of "an invitation to participate," and ongoing dialogue with visitors after they return so they might contribute more than once. This program uses carefully selected primary messages to create beliefs necessary to support action, and secondary messages to break down misconceptions, destroy negative or contradicting messages that people may have, and overcome their beliefs in negative consequences of their action.
PRIMARY MESSAGES 1. Galapagos is unique in the world. 2. All eyes are on the Galapagos. 3. In the end, it will be the passion and insistence of the visitor that will ensure the preservation of the Galapagos Islands. 4. Lindblad Expeditions has championed the creation of the Galapagos Conservation Fund and has committed its own resources to the cause. It invites its own guests to join the cause to protect the "World's Natural Jewel." SECONDARY MESSAGES 1. Galapagos is threatened by the intro- duction of aggressive and well-adapted exotic species that don't belong here. These species either kill or outcompete Galapagos's native and endemic species. 2. Illegal commercial fishing is threatening the marine ecosystem on which almost all Galapagos wildlife depends. 3. Current funding falls far short of the capital required to manage and protect the Galapagos Islands. 4. Donated funds go straight to a special Galapagos Conservation Fund administered jointly by the Charles Darwin Foundation and Galapagos National Park. 5. All of the funds go directly to new or ongoing conservation projects. Ham based this message package on psychological research targeting Lindblad's audience. "It might not be as effective in other locations, even if `adapted' to local circumstances," warns Ham. He investigates each new audience every time he launches this kind of project. In the Galapagos this strategy generates an average of $200,000 a year. Funds have been used to eliminate feral pigs on Santiago, reestablish native vegetation here, maintain park
Interpretation can help visitors understand the role they might play in preserving the unique ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands. Photos by Laila Dawson.
patrol boats, fund Environmental Education programs on the islands, fund Galapagos university students, offer small grants for local conservation projects, and others. Since founding the program, Ham and Lindblad's conservation director, Tom O'Brien, have been evangelizing the idea. Lindblad launched a similar campaign in Alaska with the Alaska Whale Foundation. Ham and O'Brien are now preparing to work with the Mexican Fund for Nature Conservation in Baja California, Mexico, where Lindblad has been established for more than twenty years. The Business Enterprises for
Sustainable Travel, a joint initiative of The Conference Board and the World Travel and Tourism Council, has adopted traveler philanthropy as a major theme and held a conference on the topic in the Dominican Republic in 2001 and another in Miami in September 2002. Consider that the next time someone tells you there isn't enough money to do an interpretive program. Jon Kohl is a conservationist and freelance writer. To contact him or read more interpretation-related articles, visit www.jonkohl.com. LEGACY 41

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