“The development of an ecolabel is a way of using the tourism market to promote and reward corporate social responsibility; it will empower tourists and the private sector to become more informed and engaged partners in mountain gorilla conservation”, asserts Mr. Wellard Makambo, IGCP’s Program Manager.
According to Wellard, many tourists arrive to see gorillas in the wild with inflated expectations about their gorilla trekking experience; which are usually influenced by what they see on social media as shared by previous trekkers or by their tour operators showing people in close proximity to – or in some cases even in contact with – wild mountain gorillas, despite existing tourism regulations in place to protect both gorillas and tourists including the minimum distance at which gorillas should be viewed.
Geared at conserving the critically-endangered mountain gorillas and their habitat in their regional afromontane forest habitat in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) has partnered with the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network to explore with conservation and tourism stakeholders in the region the development of a Gorilla FriendlyTM ecolabel for tourism.
The ecolabel initiative is complimented by the Gorilla FriendlyTM Pledge launched in 2014 to empower the average tourist to play their role as a gorilla protector before, during and after their visit. More on the Pledge can be found in a previous IGCP blog post. The emerging ecolabel, grounded in best practices documented by the IUCN, offers the possibility to distinguish and reward the private sector – tour operators and hotels; for example, that through their policies and actions they provide direct benefits to mountain gorillas and support the park edge communities as part of their business model.
According to a completed feasibility study conducted by WFEN based on consultations and roundtable discussions, the ecolabel will create the incentives necessary to meet best practice guidelines through self-regulation, in place of or as a compliment to, government regulation, in order to assure the preservation of viable populations of mountain gorillas for future generations.
This initiative is in line with international ecolabels for products and services driven by a consumer desire to have their purchases contribute to environmental sustainability, social equity and/or health. It is also complimentary to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council criteria.
“In order to be successful change catalysts for brands and their consumers we need to keep an eye on global consumer trends and demographics especially when the brand strategists seem to be in agreement that things are shifting. While they each have their own proprietary market research and use different terminology, BBMG / Globescan has dubbed this growing segment of consumers the ‘Aspirationals.’ What the supporting research from BBMG / Globescan’s 2014 Aspirational Consumer Index tells us is that we are no longer constrained by a small percentage of ‘advocate’ ‘treehugger’ consumers residing in wealthy countries. Aspirationals now comprise 38% or 1/3 of global consumers or 2.5 billion people with the top market in 2014 being India. If the demographics of the Aspirationals continue to align with global Biodiversity Hotspots maps we in the conservation sector have a huge opportunity to drive transformational change.” Julie Stein, Executive Director of Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network in a recent guest blog on Conservation Finance Alliance (http://conservationfinance.org/news.php?id=312)
While tourism continues to provide an economic incentive to preserve mountain gorillas and their habitat, they still remain critically endangered and are extremely vulnerable to disease and habitat degradation; the more reason for affirmative programs to protect them and also improve service delivery in the ecotourism sector. For now, the draft standards are under development and will go through a series of review by stakeholders through the months of May and June 2015 to ensure that the ecolabel initiative will ultimately reach its objectives – to add value to the tourism sector by promoting and rewarding best practice leading to sustainable tourism development and protection of the critically-endangered mountain gorillas.
For additional information about this initiative please see The Executive Summary of the Gorilla FriendlyTM Feasibility Report available for download.