Wildlife tourism across Europe is getting a sustainable boost thanks to a training program that’s teaching tour guides about rewilding while creating economic opportunities in the process.
Run by not-for-profit organization Rewilding Europe, the training focuses on returning nature to a wilder state across eight regions of Europe by removing human management and reintroducing certain species.
The initiative envisions rejuvenating the tourism industry by attracting visitors to remote areas, with the possibility of encountering wild animals such as lynxes and wolves and creating local employment opportunities.
In 2017, Rewilding Europe set up the European Safari Company, a travel agency designed to bring tourists to its rewilding projects. Four years since it kicked off, the agency now runs 40 safari packages including bison tracking in Poland’s Oder Delta and bear-watching in Croatia.
According to Aukje van Gerven, who is running the program, the initiative goes beyond creating jobs in tourism by also teaching guides how to bring together rewilded landscapes and local communities.
“If I go wolf-watching with my clients,” van Gerven said, “am I literally just going wolf-trekking, or will I visit the local honey producer to see how they are using fencing to make sure the bears in the area are not eating the honey the bees are producing? Will I visit the local shepherd to see how he’s protecting his sheep against wolves? It’s focused on economic sustainability within a wild area.”
As part of the initiative, trainees attend online webinars and can then apply to participate in a five-day field training program, which will take place later this year in Italy’s central Apennines. To evaluate the program’s impact, Rewilding Europe will survey the tourists taken on by their graduates and compare the results with tourist experiences from before the training.
While the program focuses on wild areas in Europe, it has garnered interest from all across the world, with the current round of trainees including students from the US, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates.