Your business and the local Community

It is not uncommon to find communities where perhaps only the most dedicated fishermen were even aware that whales and dolphins were present in their coastal waters until a whale watching industry was initiated.  As whale watching and related tourism services begin to generate income and employment for the community, operators can be transformed into local heroes and celebrities – the providers of bounty for all. At the same time, through a new-found awareness, community members can become champions of the whales and dolphins upon which their economy relies, and protectors of their habitat.

Champions and defenders

In order for local communities to become true champions and defenders, they will need to truly see and experience the benefits of the whale watching tourism taking place.  While the success of a whale watching industry can bring prosperity and well-being to a community, it can also lead to jealousy or misunderstanding.  Like any long-term relationship, operators need to work to ensure that they nurture and maintain a good standing with their local community, and that relationships with local stakeholders are mutually beneficial.  Maintaining positive relationships with local regulating or tourism authorities, hotels and resorts, fishing communities, tourism booking agencies, and town councils or business groups can ensure that an operator’s business will benefit from their support when needed, and contribute to an overall positive attitude toward whales, their conservation needs, and the potential benefits they can bring. 

Fostering positive relationships

There are many ways to foster positive relationships, and these will vary from one culture and context to another.  However, a number of examples can be found in the experience of whale watching communities around the world. Operators can:

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  • Hire from the local community:  Try to make sure that any paid job opportunities you can offer (e.g. boat drivers, guides, office booking staff) are advertised to local community members before you look further.  If you cannot find the skills you are looking for within the local community, consider investing in training and capacity building for locals (e.g. boat-handling courses, language courses, guiding knowledge) rather than importing skills from outside.  If this is too expensive to undertake on your own, consider collaborating with other operators to arrange capacity building for a larger target group to create a local skill pool that all of the operators can draw from. Alternatively, approach local authorities and business groups to determine whether funding could be made available through business development or training schemes.  These approaches were particularly successful in promoting local pride and employment opportunities in Kaikoura, New Zealand.
  • Participate in a multi-stakeholder management group:  Many whale watching areas have set up participative management groups involving local and/or park authorities, whale watching operators, fishing associations, tourism boards, community representatives, researchers and NGOs.  Collaboration between all of these parties can help to ensure that each stake holders’ concerns are taken into account as the industry develops.  This can be the setting where fishermen can express concern about whale watching interfering with their operations – or, conversely, whale watch operators suggest that fishing nets and lines are presenting a hazard to navigation during tours.  Addressing these issues in a consultative body that is guided by clear terms of reference and where ground rules are applied to debates and conflict resolution may be more productive than direct engagement between two parties with potentially conflicting interests.  This type of multi-stakeholder management has been used in the Dominican Republic and Loreto Bay, Mexico.
  • Organise awareness-raising activities for the local community:  These can include lectures or information evenings where members of the public can learn about the whales or dolphins off their coast and be inspired with photos, videos and stories from operators and guides.    Some operators organize whale festivals in the local community with information booths and fun activities for children and other communities to enjoy.
  • Organise events in the community that benefit the whales:  Some examples include beach clean-ups, recycling drives, or other events that involve local community members as well as tourists.
  • Offer free or discounted (low season) tours: for school children or public service providers in the community.  As operators know better than anyone else, an on-the-water encounter with whales and dolphins can achieve wonders in motivating and inspiring individuals to engage I efforts to protect them.  Inviting community members to come and share the experience may help them to understand what all the excitement is about, and play a more active role in environmental protection measures.
  • Set up a local scholarship fund: That guests can contribute to, to help send a local student off to study marine biology/conservation.
  • Collaborate with local shops/pubs/restaurants: To phase out the use of plastic bags or plastic straws in your community.

 A chapter written by McIntosh et al, 20141 provides an excellent and more in depth overview, framework, and examples of ways that operators can address all of these considerations.

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Show / Hide References
  1. McIntosh, N., K. Maly, and J. Kittinger, Integrating traditional ecological knowledge and community engagement in marine mammal protected areas, in Whale-watching: Sustainable tourism and ecological management, J. Higham, L. Bejder, and R. Williams, Editors. 2014, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom. p. 163-174.

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