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Galapagos Islands – The Great Tourism Debate

On Sunday 10 June, The Observer published a piece written by Carol Cadwalladr on the negative effects of tourism in the Galapagos. You can read the article by clicking on the above link and below is the letter I wrote in response to this article:

“I wonder if at any time Carole Cadwalladr felt the slightest tinge of hypocrisy, condemning tourism in the Galapagos while she frolicked with sea-lions and enjoyed the hospitality of the very hotels and tour operators she is so keen to vilify? I should state immediately that I am not an impartial observer in all of this as I manage the tour operator that organised and partially sponsored Carole Cadwalladr’s travel arrangements to the Galapagos. While I am very disappointed that Carole decided to write a polemic against tourism in the Galapagos I welcome the debate her piece has aroused and agree with some of the points she has raised. Tighter control and regulation of tourism in the Galapagos are undoubtedly required however this must be done in a manner that still allows tourism to help local people realise the economic potential of their natural habitat and the wildlife that calls it home. “If it pays it stays” is the mantra of conservation and with this pragmatic approach, tourism is crucial to the future of not only the Galapagos but also numerous other primary wildlife destinations around the world. Remove tourism and the compulsion to conserve and protect no longer has its driving force. Of course, there is a sense of balance required and the problem in the Galapagos is that land based tourism has been allowed to develop unregulated. This has not only had a direct environmental impact but has also increased the tourist capacity of the Galapagos Islands for which it does not have the infrastructure. The sooner something is done to curb this development and cap the number of tourists permitted on land based holidays the better. Rather than encouraging travellers to abandon their plans for visiting the Galapagos, I hope Cadwalladr’s piece makes travellers think carefully about how they should travel to the Galapagos. Look beyond the greenwash and choose a tour operator that pays more than just lip service to sustainable travel; choose a boat based trip over land based in order to minimize your impact on the fragile infra-structure of some of the islands; make sure you , a kite-mark of environmental best practice; if you want to spend time on land, chose a hotel like Finch Bay Eco Hotel that adheres to strict environmental guidelines. Steppes Discovery is a Gold Corporate member of Galapagos Conservation Trust and in the past 5 years has donated £30,000 to GCT’s projects on the islands as well as signing up all of our clients for membership to the organisation. In addition, in the last 5 years we have donated £20,000 to the Charles Darwin Foundation’s Herbarium project, which works to combat invasive plant species. If the Observer feels so strongly that tourism is “wrecking the wonders of the Galapagos” perhaps they would be prepared to donate the actual cost of their journalists’ trip to the islands, to the projects Steppes Discovery already supports?”

Needless to say, The Observer has not put its hand in its pocket…

If you have an opinion on tourism in the Galapagos then the Galapagos Conservation Trust want to hear it. They are currently hosting a debate on their website where you can post your comments – click on the link above.