July 2, 2020
Once every ten years, the brightest minds in environmental issues get together for a global forum on protected areas – World Parks Congress 2014. One question the Congress was trying to answer is how to inspire a new generation to appreciate nature parks. I teamed up with Matt McClelland of WildWalks to present lessons learned from tourism.
With more than 200,000 protected area sites globally, the numbers look promising. But there are underlying pressures. For example, the scope of Tanzania's World Heritage listed Selous Game Reserve has been reduced to make space for uranium mining. Back home, there are also challenges. Coal seam gas projects, development and budget cuts threaten to undermine natural areas.
Protect what you love
Adventurer Jacques Yves Costeau said it best;
“People protect what they love”.
But let’s consider for a moment, what love is. The most useful definition takes its cue from early Greek definitions; disregarding Disney-esque romantic love and instead thinking in terms of “agape” – love expressed through self-sacrificing acts of service, such as a parent for a child.
The question then becomes, how can we inspire agape in the next generation, to ensure a life-long love affair with nature?
Inspiring a New Generation
As I spoke at World Parks Congress 2014 co-presenting as part of three seemingly opposing groups – a tour operator (that’s us), an information resource (WildWalks) and a community group (Walking Volunteers) – we wanted to show how all applied the same principle of inspiring agape love differently.
It comes down to three simple things:
To inspire, we set about creating Sydney as a walking “destination” – to reimagine Australia’s largest city as a place rich in natural assets.
- Walking Volunteers made it possible to walk from one end of Sydney to the other; working with local and state government to connect nearly 300km of walking trails linking urban and natural areas.
- The WildWalks website targets self-guided walkers, providing detailed track notes to inspire short breaks in nature.
- And Sydney Coast Walks educates using established tourism channels; trade events, glossy travel agent brochures, local and international media coverage, and social media like Facebook.
Efforts designed to inspire are the first step of the travel decision-cycle, where you add walking to your wish-list versus bus tours and bar-hopping.
So now you’ve got them here, what next?
Put simply – entertain them. You see, every place has a story and it’s these stories we tell that allow people to truly understand and appreciate the land they’re walking through.
While surface beauty can be enough to fall in love, the secret to a long-lasting relationship is a deeper, more complex understanding. Tours with commentary, guidebooks, interpretative signage – do what you can to create connection.
The final way to foster the highest ideal of agape, is to first take care of the basics: to equip the next generation with the tools they need.
Answer questions like, how to get there. Not just by car, but by public transport too. Offer hotel transport or for better eco-credentials, design tours around public transport where possible.
Good preparation makes the experience. So talk fitness levels, describe the track, spell out what shoes to wear. And the way to your heart? Through your stomach of course; the latest tourism research shows that the food experience is really important, so promote nearby cafes or surprise with a picnic out on the track.
Learn from tourism
Let’s say it works – that by inspiring, entertaining and equipping the next generation, you’ve fallen head over heels, you want to shout it from the rooftops… First comes love, then comes TripAdvisor.
You might think of TripAdvisor in terms of hotel reviews, or reviews of tours. But search for, say, things to do in Sydney, and the results default to what TripAdvisor calls “attractions”, not tours. Some of the top reviews are of walking tracks (spay attention land managers – you need to be 5 star too!). In this day of peer review on steroids, TripAdvisor can make or break visitation to natural areas in the same way it can make or break a tourism business.
Let’s make a lasting legacy from World Parks Congress 2014. Go ahead and borrow the tools that tourism uses because whether you’re a community group, information resource, land manager or even something else, we should all aim to inspire agape.