Today’s profile doesn’t feature a volunteer company. Instead, it focuses on the other side of the volunteer/tourism binary. Reefs to Rockies is a tourism company, but they have a deeper purpose: conservation. I’m inspired by the work they’re doing. It dovetails nicely with many of the conservation-based voluntour organizations we’ve profiled and demonstrates how a purely for-profit enterprise can give back through responsible, ecologically conscious programs for travelers. I think it’s important to remember that eco-tourism is often remarkably similar to voluntourism: many of the same values and principles apply to both. Eco-tourists choose their programs because, like volunteers, they want to give back. They want their dollars to contribute to a greater good. I think the line between volunteers and eco-tourists is often a blurry one, especially when eco-tourists participate directly in conservation efforts while they travel. For many travelers interested in a vacation, eco-tours are a great way to give back while you kick back.
Reefs to Rockies is focused on the Earth’s hotspots, places with exceptional (and accessible) biodiversity. And they are dedicated to making sure their eco-tourism benefits local communities. From their website: “All of Reefs to Rockies’ efforts are attempts to ensure that local community members and wildlife at our destinations benefit from our operations there.” This is where the line blurs: their destinations are sites of active improvement in local conditions and travelers take part—they interact with local people, learn about local culture, and participate in conservation efforts. While their participation may be minimal, it is an important part of the experience.
One of the things Reefs to Rockies offers that is different from a traditional voluntour experience is their focus on customization. If a traveler is interested in a specific site, like Costa Rica’s Osa peninsula or a big five safari (named for the five species of animal you can see there: lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino), Reefs to Rockies will cater the itinerary accordingly. They also make sure every aspect of the trip is eco-friendly from locally owned hotels committed to conservation to the local expert guides that adhere to environmental guidelines. In many sites, like the Galapagos Islands, tourists are one of the biggest dangers to endangered species. Smart, responsible guides ensure the safety of the animals and their habitats while travelers explore.
Reefs to Rockies has ongoing programs in North America (Mexico), Central America (Costa Rica and Nicaragua), South America (Peru, Ecuador, and Galapagos), the Caribbean Islands (Trinidad and Tobago), and Africa (Tanzania, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, and Kenya).