Sloth-friendly tourism: How to help sloths while traveling
When it comes to tourism, sloths often get the short end of the stick. Sloths are at the top of the list of animals sought after for wildlife selfies. Due to their “celebrity status” they are often crowded by adoring fans and in extreme cases used as photo props for tourists.
The good news is, there are ways to travel that can actually benefit local wildlife, including sloths! But how can you tell which businesses and hotels have actually made meaningful changes to help wildlife and which ones only appear to be “green”?
Introducing the Sloth Friendly Network
Thankfully, travelers coming to the South Caribbean of Costa Rica will no longer have to guess which businesses are friendly to wildlife, because we have been developing a program to address this exact issue!
The Sloth Friendly Network (SFN) is an accreditation program to help concerned travelers make informed choices by highlighting local businesses that have been doing their upmost to help wildlife in the area.
The central aim of the program is to endorse sloth friendly tourism and responsible business ownership by engaging travelers and visitors as partners in conservation.
The South Caribbean is known for its wild and beautiful beaches. It is not uncommon to be basking in the warm Caribbean Sea while you watch a sloth starting to stir after its afternoon nap, munching on beach almond trees.
Perhaps you hear a group of howler monkeys calling in the distance. These unique creatures sharing these wonderful and wild spaces with us, make the South Caribbean a truly enchanting place to be. A place whose biodiversity draws millions of tourists from all over the world each year.
- A study carried out by the University of Costa Rica, “Observatory of Sustainable Tourism of the Costa Rican Caribbean (OBTURCARIBE)”, concluded that 43% of both national and foreign visitors visit travel to the South Caribbean to experience nature, biodiversity, protected areas, and to observe wildlife.
Developing a sloth-friendly tourism
One of our primary concerns in developing the program was whether tourists prefer organizations that support wildlife conservation. TripAdvisor conducted a study which revealed that 62% of the respondents consider the local environment when choosing a hotel, restaurant, and means of transportation and 69 percent of respondents plan to make even more eco-friendly choices on their next trip.
However, would they be willing to pay slightly more to an organization that protects wildlife? While there are some surveys that have shown that people support environmentally friendly practices such as plastic reduction, water conservation, and carbon neutral commitments, there isn’t much research on people’s opinions on wildlife conservation.
In order to determine the importance of wildlife conservation to tourists, we created a survey with two simple questions:
1. When traveling, would you be more willing to book with a hotel/tour guide that supports conservation of local wildlife over other companies?
2. Would you be willing to spend more for a hotel/tour guide that supports conservation?
A third question on demographics was added to see if any meaningful patterns emerged: “What is your age range?”
This survey indicates that there is a strong preference to support organizations that help protect local wildlife. Additionally, the responses indicate that the majority of people are willing to pay more.
The results of this survey are meaningful for those in the tourism industry as it suggests that by supporting the conservation of local wildlife, they could have a competitive advantage over other companies in the area.
Reaching out to local businesses
Armed with this new knowledge, we were able to make the case to local businesses that tourists truly care about wildlife conservation and are even willing to pay more to reduce the impact of their travel.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to start from scratch because we have had the privilege of working with many local hotels and businesses through our Connected Gardens program.
These organizations have supported our sloth conservation efforts by reconnecting habitat on their properties through Sloth Crossings and reforesting and helping to educate their clients by sharing our educational materials.
Our first members of the Sloth Friendly Network!
We have had the honor of working with these wonderful individuals over the past couple of years and we are proud to officially recognize them as part of the Sloth Friendly Network. As our network grows and we continue to accredit local businesses and organizations in the area, we hope that this will be a useful resource for travelers who interested in wildlife-friendly tourism.
These photos are some of the highlights from our recent visits to drop off education materials (and the certificates of course!) to these Platinum members of the Sloth Friendly Network. Thank you so much for supporting sloth conservation and making it possible to coexist with wildlife in a mutually beneficial way!
Stay tuned as we add more businesses! And if you ever have the chance to visit the South Caribbean of Costa Rica be sure to check out these awesome places!
- Read more: How to join the Sloth Friendly Network
-Jackie Lopez and Katra Laidlaw