Nature Tours

Nature Tours - my definition and thoughts

Look up 'nature tours' in Wikipedia and there isn't yet a page. Same with 'naturalist tours.' But it's a concept already well used in the industry and with travelers. Perhaps the reason why it isn't well defined is that the term 'nature tours' means different things to different people. It's a broad concept, and would have to include day tour operators, operators of various adventure activities, lodges or even hotel organized activities or outings, and then long 'safari' type tours, usually either camping or in lodges or other accommodation.

It's an idea that interests me a lot and I think it's an important phrase in the tourism industry. To me the idea of nature tours or naturalist tours is a completely different concept than 'ecotourism'.

The ideas are not mutually exclusive. They just mean different things. Without wishing to define ecotourism, I do think the term is used to mean almost anything related to how 'green' a tour company wishes to portray itself. I think the term ecotourism is used as a marketing trick often. Even some big companies that used the term in the past are now being very cautious about calling themselves 'ecotourism operators.' Perhaps through misuse, it has lost a lot of it's initial meaning.

Nature tours or Naturalist tours on the other hand are much better terms. They don't carry as much power for marketing. Just have a look at Google Trends. If you compare the frequency of use of the term nature tours to ecotourism, it is clear that nature tours isn't a big search term. In other words, people don't go onto the Internet much and look for the phrase 'nature tours' all that often.

It's not 'green' and that is possibly another reason why it hasn't become a buzz term. In terms of 'green' ethics, though, I think that people who have had the experience of visiting and experiencing nature are going to care for it much more than those who sit at home and count carbon-thingi-me-nots.

I do think, however, that it is a valuable term. Because it hasn't become a fashion, the use of the term usually conveys a genuine attitude about the way a company does it's tours.

I have been using the term 'nature tours' for a long time. And if you start to look through websites it is really clear that some companies focus clearly nature, and others band about cliches. Usually tour companies with a strong focus on taking people out in nature will use the phrase 'nature tours' almost right away on their website. On those that don't, despite the fact that they may take you out into areas where you are clearly out in nature, their focus is not on interpreting nature. They are less likely to call their guides 'naturalists.'

Characteristics of a nature tour guide:

  • Knowledge is important. They want to be accurate. I say want to be. Guides are not scientists or academics (so are, most didn't have the opportunity.) But they do have a desire to be accurate with what they learn.

  • That said, there is a conection with science. They may have had some training by a scientist or may report certain information back to a scientist or a conservation body

  • There is a sense of passion.

  • Often a nature guide will have one of more specific areas of interest, which they have learned about more intensely

  • Nature guides and nature tour companies have a commitment to conservation. It may be small. But it is sincere.

  • Their guiding is interesting. Often tourists who are less interested in nature may feel that they don't want a guide that gives them all sorts of facts and figures, and they feel that the known nature guide is going to do that. Actually, it's usually the other way around. The nature guide is a naturalist - i.e. an observer of nature. They will tell you the story of the situation. They give you the inside scoop of what is happening. Those that dish out heaps of textbook info usually do so only because their knowledge isn't backed by experience in nature.

  • It's an observation rather than a definition, but usually they would be capable birders.

  • It usually wouldn't take you long to gather that the guide has significant empathy for nature. It's a personal characteristic.

  • They notice the small things. Actually a focus on the small things is a really big thing in conducting nature tours. (yes, pun intended, sorry. The point, however, is valid.)

The nature tour companies would often offer things like walking trips, canoeing, flora type trips and other specialist type experiences. I think one good question would be "is this tour something that would be interesting even at home." Just think about how boring a regular, ill informed, textbook quoting guide would be if he took you out in your home region. But go out to the forests, lakes, hills, and parks with a local naturalist guide, and it is an interesting experience.

Another thing about 'nature tours' or 'naturalist tours' is that they are not always offered by a 'tour company.' They may be a club outing or a trip organized by a museum or university.

These are just my thoughts on the subject. Perhaps I am wrong? Are the term 'nature tours' and 'naturalist tours' well defined in the industry? Are they used as buzzwords today? I don't think so. But I would love to hear what you say about that.

If it strikes your fancy, leave me a comment or write me an email I am, of course, very interested in the subject. It's basically my life, my career. Write a section for Wikipedia called 'nature tours'. I certainly hope the phrase comes more into prominence in the market as people look for a more genuine experience and avoid the factory style tourism (tourist in, feed them, point at five things (like lions,) mumble some boring facts, a joke, a drink, send them packing, collect the money.)
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