Q & A Blog Post with Christina Cavaliere on Sustainable Tourism

I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down and talk to Christina Cavaliere, PhD, about sustainable tourism through an animal lens. She is an environmental social scientist who focuses on linking tourism and biocultural conservation. She has past experience in research with human dimensions of socio-ecological systems involving tourism impacts. Additionally she has multiple published reviewed articles. She is involved with many organizations that align with her mission. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources in the Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University. In the totality of the interview we covered four different questions that pertain to the subject of sustainable tourism. 

Q: “How would you define the term sustainable tourism?”

A: “While there are many journals and articles written on sustainable tourism, there is no specific answer on what it is or can or can’t do.” 

Dr. Cavaliere turns the question to first understanding “What is sustainability?”. She defines sustainability, which is the “heart of the concept of sustainable tourism”, as how we can utilize and maximize benefits of nature and resources “while making sure they’re available in robust health for future generations”. She also notes that conservation and sustainability go hand in hand. 

Cavaliere views sustainability beyond an industry and prefers to view it in a systems perspective, which is the same way we would look at our ecosystems or community systems. There needs to be consideration of the impacts from a larger system.

One way to picture sustainability is what Dr. Cavaliere uses with her students, which is the idea called the quadruple bottom line. Picture a chair that has 4 legs. If one leg, or part of the system, isn’t functioning, then the chair, or tourism, is considered unstable. Tourism’s four necessary parts include climate change – a pillar for sustainability, economy, environment and the sociocultural aspect. Cavaliere states perfectly that when all four are combined you can view the positive and negative ramifications of sustainable tourism. 

In addition to the basic definition of sustainable tourism, the conversation shifted slightly to include a focus on animals within sustainability and tourism. 

Q: How are animals related to sustainability and tourism?

A:  “Sustainable tourism can occur in multiple contexts, not limited to just one.” While the ecosystem is her main focus, it can be placed in a nature based context. For example, animals and wildlife are considered to be within the realm of ecotourism.

Diving deeper into ecotourism, people should view this as “responsible travel to natural areas that can improve the well being of local people.” Dr. Cavaliere mentions that there are many ecotourism products that are involved within nature based situations. “For instance, while traveling, many people utilize accommodations, tour operators and transport.”

Cavaliere clearly states that we need to figure out how we can harness the power behind these tourism systems to contribute to conservation. This is important as when conservation is left unmanaged it leads to negative impacts. “Planning needs to be involved as well as a multi-stakeholder with the communities that live in and around the ecosystem and protected areas, as this can lead to a mutually beneficial relationship.”

It’s also important to point out that the majority of people involved within the tourism sector aren’t the people who completely understand or consider the positive and negative impacts their behavior can make. Dr Cavaliere hones in on the fact that “wildlife is deeply rooted in the sustenance of humanity.” The human species needs to “deeply understand the value of the intrinsic role that biodiversity plays in mental, physical and agricultural health”, which Cavaliere says is a systems thinking approach. 

Many people think in an anthropocentric way, which contributes to the cycles of thinking that humans are separate from nature. It’s not always humans versus nature. People need to see the bigger conceptual pieces of tourism and wild biodiversity. Sustainable tourism creates “awe” moments and for these moments to happen sustainable tourism is key, which unfortunately can be mismanaged very easily.

There are many things you can do to help within the area of sustainable tourism.

Q: “What can the general public do in their everyday lives to help promote sustainable tourism through an animal lens?”

A: “There are so many ways in which this can be completed. Starting at the Fanimal website is one of them!” Looking into organizations that provide tangible and accessible ways to be better travelers, along with how to be conscious of our actions and how they impact wildlife and animals in general is a fantastic place for people to start. “Educating and training people on how they should behave when in areas where they can encounter wildlife is vital.” 

Dr. Cavaliere brings attention to the fact that many people, when in a setting with wildlife and animals, are more “conscious of self branding rather than the possible ramifications of the moment”. Some of the possible consequences could be the animal’s behavior altering, human injury from the wild animal or the wild animal becoming sick or fearful. Of course “if a person has never had a wildlife interaction they are not going to know how to react,” which solidifies the need for education. “Be a responsible traveler by educating yourself prior to traveling to an area that you are unsure about.” One idea is to look into how a specific species can behave and the best way to not disturb them. 

Additionally, when traveling look at your purchasing decisions regarding a tourism product. “Look out for a tourism certification. This means that the business or product has been verified by a third party”, also called eco labels.

Furthermore, Dr. Cavaliere mentions to get involved by donating. Donating allows the gift to be sustainable while also directing money to important causes. “An example would be to gift money directly to protected areas of community organizations working with wildlife as well as memberships to organizations that support wildlife conservation.”

Cavaliere would also love to point out two organizations that align with sustainable tourism. The first is the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). They are a global accrediting body and hold criteria for good destination management. A second would be Linking Tourism and Conservation which is headquartered in Norway. On their website they have a map to show how tourism is successfully contributing to protected areas. Their goal is to map global examples in which tourism is directly contributing to creation and/or management of protected areas. Organizations similar to these, such as Fanimal, are great ways to become further educated. 

Lastly, we talked about conservation and the challenges that are involved with sustainable tourism currently, along with what the important factors for success are. 

Q: “What is the great challenge in animal related sustainable tourism right now and what are the important factors for success?” 

A: “Data collection and research is very important, which is the ability to collect empirical data.” “Science is the main answer.” 

However, there are great challenges that follow. One which is money. “Researchers need money and funding” in order to perform the empirical studies. “Grant writing is a challenge” along with understanding the biocultural link. Cavaliere mentioned that “there is an intrinsic relationship between human culture and biology. We need to sustainably coexist with nature and the planet. Tourism, when managed correctly, can be a conduit for biocultural conservation.” 

It’s important for you to know that any regeneration progression of a wild species is essential. “Tourism can serve to increase wildspaces which are homes for our wild biodiversity. To do this, we need to increase protected areas and get better management while harnessing financial revenue into our protected areas.” Tourism is overall a fantastic way to collect financial resources for successful and effective protected area management.

Cavaliere ends the conversation by reinforcing the fact that by contributing to non-profit organizations you are helping the cause in a more impactful and sustainable way. All in all, people need to understand the challenges in order to innovate the ideas to alter these challenges in a positive planned system.