The problem with conservation marketing and tourism
The problem with conservation marketing and tourism verges on moot. Tourism marketers across the continent are reporting major declines due to Ebola and the numbers have yet to come in for the European summer holiday makers, the Namibian ‘high season’. However tourism marketing is a medium-term game, as products are developed by tourism wholesalers months in advance, so it is still worth thinking about. Currently Namibia has a problem with poaching, hunting and killing of high-value species, particularly rhinos, elephants and lions. If citizen reports on Facebook are accurate, this extends into antelope species as well, though this may also be due to drought, either through hunting for the pot or through deaths in populations due to starvation. Poaching of the high value species has to be stopped rapidly. Rhinos, elephants and lions are among the major wildlife draws that Namibia has to offer. Loss of these species and / or relocation to less exposed areas removes them from the sight of tourists, which reduces the incomes of travel operators, and has a ripple effect on incomes to conservancies. In general, Namibia is devalued. The issue is how the problem is handled from a marketing point of view? The impact of the illegal ivory trade emanating from Namibia was predictable years ago. There are only so many rhinos in South Africa, and it was inevitable that as rhinos were decimated in South Africa, and as measures were taken there, poachers eyes would turn to Namibia as a ‘soft target’. The generally low numbers of lions was also known but ignored.
Going forward the prospects look grim.
Media presentation of the problem is widespread on an international level. The current awareness is that species are declining rapidly. Reporting on Namibia presents the same picture. The reporting is unfortunately grim in tone, not positive.
This picture is seen now, but it will also be remembered when tourists make their decisions in coming tourism seasons. So, if Ebola is taken out of the picture, some tourists will avoid Namibia now, and in future, because of conservation issues. In order to preserve tourism revenue and benefits to communities, a positive picture also has to emerge, the upside of the coin,so to speak. If positive aspects of conservation cannot be seen, then tourists are likely to decide on other destinations that have a happier outlook. Very few people want holidays that come with the taint of depressing circumstances. That is a bottom-line circumstance. Taking it a step further, if tourism arrivals decrease, community based conservation initiatives are devalued and there will be less incentive to conserve species, such as rhinos and elephants, as tourism revenues drop.
This is not a call for a rosy tinted view of the situation. As I said, wanton abuse of wildlife has to come to an end, but the view has to be improved with positive reporting. Aside from balancing the negatives of poaching, positive reporting can also give tourists a sense of contributing to conservation successes with levies to conservancies and communities that are making a success of conservation. What also comes through is a large amount of anger. In some groups, there are instances of obvious racism towards Asian people, without consideration of the fact that it is individuals who are responsible for wildlife crimes. In other instances, there are calls for the killing of poachers. None of these are morally acceptable. In fact it sometimes seems that the wildlife is beside the point, and that individuals use these groups for little more than an opportunity to vent their unresolved anger through violent statements that are, in reality, no solution at all.
That is not a good recipe for tourism either.
I am aware that there are some conservationists who are trying valiantly to find solutions. The tourism industry should the examples they set as the way forward.