Do you have an overzealous case of wanderlust AND a burning passion for conservation? Why not fuse them in an ecotourism career that offers the best of both worlds?

“Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel” – The International Ecotourism Society (TIES)

Ecotourism can give participants the opportunity to see conservation research and projects first hand – such as mist-netting to monitor bird species. Credit: Andy Young / Wildimages.org.

 

In many ways, careers in ecotourism have it all: the ability to make a difference for wildlife, habitats and local communities; the adventure and excitement of travel; meaningful global connections; and perhaps even a chance to explore your entrepreneurial side. 

Careers in ecotourism can also offer more opportunities (and pay) than other highly-competitive Conservation Job Types that rely primarily on donor funding.

We’ve designed this Ultimate Guide like a travel guidebook – to give you a glimpse of some of the exciting adventures in store if you embark on a career in ecotourism.

Feel free to explore everything cover to cover, or travel straight to the section you need.

 

What is ecotourism? | Conservation through experience

Ecotourism generates benefits for conservation and local communities and involves education and interpretation. Credit: NATUCATE.

 

A leading definition of ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”. That last bit is for both guests and staff.

Another useful way to think about ecotourism is sustainable tourism (which strives for social, cultural, economic and environmental sustainability), which takes place in natural areas and focuses on providing benefits for conservation and local communities.

Ecotourism can be a powerful way to achieve conservation impact by making conservation part of a successful business model. In some parts of the world – like African parks and conservancies, for instance – it’s often the best tool we currently have to protect wildlife and habitats.

While we’re on the topic of definitions, it’s worth mentioning that there are other related types of tourism out there. These include nature- and nature-based tourism, sustainable tourism, responsible travel, conservation tourism, wildlife tourism and protected area tourism, to name a few.

Many volunteer and internship opportunities in conservation also encompass aspects of ecotourism within their programmes.

 

What types of ecotourism jobs exist?

Experiencing the Serengeti, Tanzania. Credit: Hu Chen on Unsplash.

 

Before we do a deep dive into the conservation job market, let’s quickly touch on what we define as an ecotourism job. For Conservation Careers, an ecotourism job is any role where your activities aid the conservation or enhancement of wildlife or habitats through ecotourism.

This includes jobs which directly benefit conservation like a Community Liaison Officer who helps local communities engage with and benefit from ecotourism in Africa. It also includes roles which indirectly benefit conservation efforts, such as a Sales Manager, who ensure guests continue to visit to provide reliable alternative livelihood opportunities for local people.

If the role aids conservation efforts through tourism, it’s an ecotourism job.

Ecotourism is a broad theme of work, encompassing most of the 15 key conservation job types. But ecotourism is also uber-diverse, encompassing many areas of focus – such as protected areas, guiding and certification.

If you’re worried about whether your skillset is needed in careers in ecotourism, you can put that fear to rest!

 

15 Key Conservation Job Types

In practice, it’s very common to find ecotourism jobs that combine several different job types – such as Science & Research, Environmental Education and Community-based Conservation.

Sector-specific ecotourism jobs

Let’s explore some of the sub sectors within ecotourism. We’ve compiled some of the most common – but the possibilities are endless. You might even create your own!

Nature and field guides play an important role in environmental education and interpretation. Credit: Rock Staar on Unsplash.

Guiding

Guides are responsible for helping tourists and other visitors create the experience of a lifetime. Whether you’re seated at a bird hide, guiding a group through the rainforest at night in search of amphibians, or pointing out wildlife as a diver, you’re an educator, storyteller, organiser and conversationalist all in one. 

Your conservation superpower: Helping people discover or deepen their connection with nature.

Tip: Wildlife may be the star attraction, but guiding usually relies on excellent people skills.

Guiding Ecotourism Jobs | Career Stories & Advice – Search for the latest here.

Consulting / Certification 

Consultants, Certification Coaches and Managers help guide ecotourism destinations and businesses move towards sustainability and more responsible practices. You might even guide a destination or business through the process of becoming certified at global or national standards. This might involve everything from wildlife practices, through to waste management, business plans and benefits for local staff. 

Your conservation superpower: helping destinations or businesses operate in a way that minimises negative impacts and maximises positive benefits for wildlife and habitats.

Tip: There is a growing focus on sustainable destinations and certifications for destinations.

Consulting & Certification Ecotourism Jobs | Career Stories & Advice – Search for the latest here.

Don’t see your ideal job here? Don’t worry! Careers in ecotourism are open to everyone from boat drivers and sustainable agriculture experts to gender specialists and CEOs. Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash.

Lodge / Base Camp / Research Station Manager 

These managers are responsible for managing a lodge, research station or base camp – from guest safety and satisfaction, to sustainable operations, to construction and staffing. Sometimes these posts are offered on a temporary basis for singles or couples. 

Your conservation superpower: being a jack of all trades and a problem solver. On any given day you might need a combination of customer service, carpentry, communications and conservation skills!

Other ecotourism jobs

In practice there are many other ecotourism jobs available, such as:

  • Volunteer Coordinator
  • Sales Manager
  • Destination Manager
  • Business Owner

 

What are the different types of ecotourism employers?

Photo by Chastagner Thierry on Unsplash.

 

Understanding the main employer types can help you navigate careers in ecotourism. They are:

  • Academia – Help create the research base that ecotourism practitioners need to maximise the positive impacts and minimise the negative impacts of tourism. Employers are typically universities and colleges, such as the University of Kent (UK), the University of Queensland (Australia) and the University of Victoria (Canada).
  • Charity – Contribute to not-for-profit and non-governmental conservation activities through ecotourism with the Charity, NGO or ‘Third Sector.’ Examples include WWF, Fauna & Flora International, Blue Ventures and Love The Oceans.
  • Business – Work with for-profit private companies or consulting firms that practice or support ecotourism, such as Audley Travel or African Conservation Experience.
  • Government – Help set regional, national or international policies, and enforce best practice with the public sector or civil service. Examples of government institutions and agencies include the Department of Tourism (South Africa), the Ministry of Tourism (Canada), Tourism New Zealand and the Guyana Tourism Authority.
  • Enterprise – Join the start-up, social enterprise or innovation movement, applying commercial strategies to maximise improvements in environmental and human well-being. Examples include Blue Ventures, GVI and Fuze Ecoteer.

Note: many ecotourism organisations have a business and charity arm – to ensure their conservation work has the resources it needs to run year-round. 

 

What kind of people suit careers in ecotourism?

Wading through tropical rivers is good fun, but if fieldwork isn’t your thing, there are a wealth of other job types in ecotourism. Credit: KAL VISUALS on Unsplash.

 

Do you think careers in ecotourism are just for extroverted adventure-lovers? Many field-based guiding and environmental education roles do require an adventurous spirit and excellent people skills.

But this diverse sector has plenty of space for all personality types and working preferences. For example, you might choose a desk-based job focussed storytelling and marketing, or become a veterinarian at a rescue centre who prefers spending most of their time with animals, rather than people. 

Ecotourism can employ people with a diversity of skills, from front line people skills, to business acumen, to planning, communications and marketing. Ecological expertise is not necessarily a prerequisite and switching careers into ecotourism is a great option!

If you research the ecotourism sector and know your niche, chances are you can find the right fit for you!

 

What top skills, education and experience are in demand in ecotourism?

You might be surprised to discover that the most in-demand skills in ecotourism are easily transferable from other sectors. Credit: NATUCATE.

 

To give you a snapshot of the education, experience and skills needed to work in the ecotourism sector, we analysed a sample of 30 ecotourism jobs posted on Conservation Careers in the past 3 years.

Scuba diving is one example of a useful skill for careers in ecotourism

Alyssa Adler used her dive experience to work for Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic as an Undersea Specialist.

These jobs came from 28 different employers from around the globe. Among them were African Wildlife Foundation, Audubon, BirdLife South Africa, Department of Conservation, Lindblad Expeditions, Love The Oceans, Macaw Recovery Network, Project Biodiversity, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and WWF.

Would you like to discover more ecotourism organisations in your region of interest?

As a Conservation Careers Academy member you can access every job ever posted on Conservation Careers on our Expired Conservation Jobs Board. It’s the perfect place to find organisations that match your interests and explore the types of opportunities available!

Here’s a quick overview of the types of education, experience and skills required for ecotourism jobs (and their frequency). Keep in mind that this is just a tiny sample of the thousands of ecotourism jobs available worldwide every year!

Education

Over half of all roles required a Bachelor’s degree in relevant field (or an equivalent combination of work and education). None of the jobs specifically required a master’s degree.

Experience

Industry experience (very frequent)

  • Interest in, passion for or commitment to conservation (very frequent)
  • Experience in the tourism or travel industry, or a specific sector such as nature-based tourism, sustainable tourism (frequent)
A van on the edge of a precipice covered in tropical vegetation. Some careers in ecotourism involve working at remote, isolated sites.

Some field stations are so remote, it can take 2 to 4 days just to get to work!

Experience in a relevant environment (very frequent)

  • Experience living or working in a relevant setting, such as the developing world, a multicultural or cross-cultural setting, the tropics, Africa, an NGO or a specific country (frequent)
  • Physical capability to work outdoors and walk long distances, sometimes in challenging conditions, such as heat and humidity (frequent)
  • Ability to work in remote / isolated areas, often with limited support and/or logistical challenges (occasional)
  • Ability to work flexible / irregular hours and/or travel for work (frequent)

Skills

Career switcher and career-starter alert: you’ll notice that the top skills in demand for ecotourism careers can come from any sector, not necessarily conservation!

They include the 15 Key Conservation Job types, as well as more general (but very important!) competencies such as leadership and communication skills.

Interpersonal skills are likely to make you a stronger candidate for a career in ecotourism. Credit: Wade Lambert on Unsplash.

Interpersonal skills (very frequent)

  • Leadership and/or people management, such as leading groups, developing a team or managing volunteers (very frequent)
  • Teamwork (frequent)
  • Customer service (occasional)
  • Building and maintaining relationships (occasional)
  • Experience working with groups (occasional)
  • Being friendly / approachable (occasional)
  • Experience working with youth (occasional)
  • Facilitation (occasional)
  • Other skills: collaboration, influencing people, working with the public (occasional)

IT skills (very frequent)

  • MS Office (very frequent)
  • Other software / applications – e.g. Microsoft Teams, Google online suite (occasional)

Are you comfortable working independently? This ability could be an asset in an ecotourism career. Credit: Ulrike Langner on Unsplash.

Communication skills (very frequent)

  • Oral communication (very frequent)
  • Written communication (very frequent)
  • Presenting to groups (occasional)

Working independently (frequent)

  • (Self) motivation (frequent)
  • Time management (frequent)
  • Organisation (frequent)
  • Problem solving (occasional)
  • Resourcefulness (occasional)
  • Responsibility, dependability (occasional)

Organisational management (frequent)

  • Accounting and finance – 4
  • Business development (e.g. owning or running a company, developing business plans, generating income) – 4
  • Administrative experience – 1
Careers in ecotourism often involve working closely with local communities

Local communities are a core component of true ecotourism. Credit: Julia Rubinic on Flickr.

Community conservation (occasional)

  • Specific skills and experience varied by role but included things such as: community organising, facilitation, empowerment, knowledge transfer, safeguarding and social policies (e.g. gender, human rights), community development and alternative livelihoods.

Communications & Marketing (occasional)

  • Marketing – 3
  • Social media – 3
  • Campaigning – 2
  • Other: press, branding, graphic design 

Project and Programme management (occasional)

Environmental Education (occasional)

Science & Research (occasional)

Sector-specific and other skills (occasional)

    • Guiding experience 
    • Logistics 
    • Sales

Personal attributes

  • Flexibility / adaptability (frequent)
  • Positive attitude and/or sense of humour (occasional) 
  • Patience (occasional)
  • Open-mindedness and/or cultural sensitivity (occasional)
  • Maturity (occasional)

Qualifications

  • Driver’s licence (frequent)
  • Second language (frequent)
  • First Aid (occasional)
  • CPR (occasional)
  • PADI certification (occasional)

 

How do I know if ecotourism is doing good?

A herd of elephants walking towards a jeep. Many people are skeptical about careers in ecotourism because a few companies taint the reputation of the sector.

Did this jeep drive too close to a herd of elephants, or was it parked at a safe distance while the elephants approached? Credit: redcharlie on Unsplash.

 

Ecotourism has enormous potential to conserve some of the world’s most biodiverse places – and there are many success stories of ecotourism benefiting conservation and local communities around the world

But like any sector, a few bad apples can spoil the bunch. It is an unfortunate reality that some companies mislabel themselves as ecotourism, making people wary of all companies.

If words like ‘eco’ and ‘green’ send your ethical radar flashing, the good news is that some quick research will usually confirm if a company is ethical. Here are a few great suggestions and questions:

  • Research their reputation. What does online research say about the organisation? Check out their website and social media platforms; look for project updates, results and outcomes; and read reviews. What do past participants have to say?
  • Check for partners. Good organisations rarely work in isolation. A good ecotourism operator will usually collaborate with others, such as local community organisations, government agencies, conservation organisations, etc. Many share data and results with in-country NGOs as a minimum. If the organisation is stand alone, you may want to question why.
  • Look for true sustainability. Look for evidence that the company is actively working to minimise negative impacts and maximise positive impacts (rather than just highlighting a few green initiatives for marketing purposes). These can include environmental, social, economic and cultural impacts.
  • Consider conservation impact. A good ecotourism company will know what problems it’s working to solve. A great question to ask is if the conservation is there purely for the tourists, or if the tourists are contributing to conservation?
  • Ask questions. Want to know what percentage of tourist dollars go to conservation? Ask. Want to know what the organisation accomplished for conservation in the past year? Ask. Most organisations will be more than happy to answer. Check out this Ethical Ecotourism Code of Conduct by Terra Incognita for key principles that should be part of ethical ecotourism.

 

Take home messages for careers in ecotourism

Careers in ecotourism often involve working with people, like this group of tourists waiting to view orang-utans in Malaysia.

Careers in ecotourism are diverse, accessible to conservationists and career switchers alike, and can create positive impact for wildlife, people and the landscapes they share. Credit: Greg Girard/CIFOR via Flickr.

 

If you enjoy skimming to the bottom of posts, or sharing what you’ve learnt with your friends and family, here’s a summary in six bullet points:

  • Ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” – The International Ecotourism Society.
  • Ecotourism can be a powerful tool for achieving conservation impact by making conservation part of a successful business model that benefits local people.
  • Ecotourism is a broad theme of work, encompassing most of the 15 key conservation job types, plus specific areas of focus – such as protected areas, guiding and certification.
  • Ecotourism employers span the Academic, Business, Charity, Government and Enterprise sectors.
  • There are careers in ecotourism to suit people from all backgrounds, including people switching careers into conservation
  • Many of the skills and experience in demand for careers ecotourism can be easily transferred from other sectors.
  • Ecotourism has enormous potential to conserve some of the world’s most biodiverse places, and many success stories from ethical organisations. Asking a few key questions can help ensure you’re supporting one of the good guys.

 

Need some help finding an ecotourism job?

Not sure which direction to head in next? Credit: Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash.

 

Phew! That was a lot of information and well done if you made it this far. And hello those who skim to the bottom of blog posts.

Understanding the job market is so important in your quest to find an ecotourism job. Unless you fully understand all your options, you won’t be able to find your niche, and without that you’re far less likely to be happy, impactful and competitive.

A big part of this also is to understand yourself. What do you love doing? What are you great at? What are your biggest needs right now?

At Conservation Careers we’ve helped hundreds of people just like you to get clarity on your career options, form a plan of action, and secure your dream job.

The ecotourism sector is ready to be explored! If you need our help, we’re here for you.

 

Useful links and free stuff

Bottoms up! It’s time to take the plunge into your dream career! Credit: Krabiman via Flickr.

 

To help you navigate your options, please select which best describes you:

  • You want to work in conservation but you’re feeling lost, disillusioned or confused?!? Check out our Kick-Starter training designed to help you understand the job market, to navigate your career options, and to get hired more quickly. It’s designed for students, graduates, job-seekers and career-switchers. We’re proud to say it also has 100% satisfaction and recommendation ratings. We know you’ll love it. Find out more about our Kick-Starter – Online Course and Kick-Starter – UK Workshop.
  • You need answers to top questions about working in conservation? Check out our free Ultimate Guides covering topics like the 15 Key Conservation Job Types, Top Conservation Internships | Paid or Free and Marine Conservation Jobs, and answering questions like How to Switch Careers into Conservation, Do I need a Master’s Degree? and much more!
  • You feel ready to be applying for jobs in conservation? Check out our membership packages for job seekers which provide access to the world’s biggest conservation job board – with over 8,000 conservation jobs shared each year – plus a range of other benefits. Check out our monthly memberships here.
  • This application guide can help applicants switching careers into conservationYou’re submitting applications, but failing to get many interviews? Check out our FREE eBook Conservation Jobs: The Step-by-Step System to Get Hired as a Wildlife Conservationist – available on Kindle, EPUB and PDF. We can also review your applications, and provide 1:1 advice on how to improve them (and we don’t cost the earth). Check out our application support here.
  • You’ve got an interview (well done!) and would like our help to prepare for it? We know what employers want, and have helped many people prepare for and deliver successful interviews. Check out our practice interviews here.
  • You’ve got a question and want to contact a human being! Send us an email to mail@conservation-careers.com and one of our team will be back in touch soon.