IGTOA: Looking to the Future of Galapagos Conservation
I’ve been an active member of the Board of IGTOA, the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association, for the last 4 years, and I was recently named its new president. IGTOA is an organization consisting of over 40 travel companies that promotes sustainable travel and raises money for conservation efforts in the Galapagos Islands. I’m honored to continue working with the Board of IGTOA in this new capacity to help the organization realize its full potential.
IGTOA has done a lot of meaningful and significant work, raising and contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for Galapagos conservation and local education efforts. The organization is well known and respected in the Islands as a voice of responsible tourism. Galapagos is too special a place to make conservation anything but the top priority, and this is something upon which all members of IGTOA agree. Managed correctly, tourism in the Galapagos can be one of the world’s great ecotourism success stories.
Moving forward, IGTOA is undertaking a variety of initiatives that will increase our ability to raise money for conservation and allow us to have an even bigger positive impact in the Galapagos. One major change we are currently undergoing is converting IGTOA from a 501c6 (nonprofit trade organization) to a 501c3 (nonprofit charitable organization). This will more fully reflect the organization’s conservation focus and allow people to make tax deductible contributions, which we will redirect toward truly worthy conservation efforts in the Galapagos. Some of the IGTOA-supported organizations doing work in the Galapagos include Ecology Project International (providing conservation education to local high school students), Wildaid Galapagos (working to prevent the introduction of invasive species into the Galapagos by improving the islands’ biosecurity systems), and the Charles Darwin Foundation (which funds research that directly contributes to conservation measures taken by the Galapagos National Park).
Currently, many Galapagos travelers aren’t even asked to contribute to conservation by their tour operator or guide. We want to change that by creating ways for many more travelers to give. Our new Galapagos Travelers Conservation Fund (GTCF) will be a vehicle for raising money from a greater number of visitors. Travelers will be able to make tax deductible contributions to the GTCF that will help fund effective conservation efforts.
One of IGTOA’s other ongoing initiatives is the expansion of conservation-focused guide training in the Galapagos. It’s one thing for guides to provide travelers with facts about what they are seeing; it’s another to tie all those facts into a coherent and compelling story about the unique threats facing the Galapagos and how we can all play a part in protecting the area. With proper training, National Park guides will learn ways to inspire visitors and transform them into advocates of Galapagos conservation, and IGTOA can play a critical role in this regard. We have already sponsored one guide training course with this conservation focus, hiring the most esteemed guide training expert in the world, Sam Ham, to do the training. We will be working to expand the scope of this very successful initial training to reach all of the guides in the Galapagos with additional training programs.
The organization also now has an expanded Board and will be able to draw on the Board Members’ considerable talents in helping it realize its full potential.
It’s an exciting time to be part of IGTOA, and the cause is a great one.