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Environment & Wildlife, Travel & Culture

What is Last Chance to See Tourism?

May 19th 2024

Tagged: Endangered Species, Ethical Tourism, Ethical Volunteering, Wildlife

You’ve probably heard of “last chance to see” tourism: a travel trend that’s gaining momentum as the climate crisis impacts more locations and wildlife around the world. 

Tourists are apparently rushing to experience wild rhinos in Africa, the Great Barrier Reef or Argentina’s glacier fields before it’s too late. Throughout history, humans have raced to discover new species or visit a new landscape, now, we’re racing to be among the last. 

Rhino NepalNepal | WorkingAbroadThere’s an obvious paradox to “doom tourism”: the very act of travelling to visit a threatened region or species can accelerate its demise. Well meaning media coverage of climate challenges in a region, can then contribute to increased volumes of visitors: images of flooding or accounts of habitat losses can then lead to tourists seeking “exotic” travel to choose these locations as their next destination.  

Is This a New Trend?

This trend is not new: in 1990, author Douglas Adams and zoologist Mark Carwardine wrote “Last Chance to See” which later became a BBC TV series with Stephen Fry.  The team set out to find curious creatures, in the hope that their adventures might inspire others to take an interest in the plight of species around the world: like the Komodo Dragon, a giant lizard and the Aye-aye, a gremlin-like lemur.

The series explained that extinction is entirely natural: typically a species becomes extinct within 10 million years of its first appearance. However, the speed of our current extinction rate is concerning, and we now understand how interconnected nature is – the extinction of one species or environment often leads to the loss of others, as they rely on each other for survival.

Places have always changed, evolved and sometimes completely disappeared from world maps, but, as the earth warms increasingly quickly, it’s the potential for many sites and species to be eroded in a short time frame that has accelerated this thirst for travel.

Where is this happening?

In 2023, The Times published a list of “places you’ll no longer be able to visit in five years time” that pointed out how “bucket-list destinations such as Venice, the Galapagos and the Taj Mahal are at risk from rising sea levels or flooding”.

Recently, there’s been an environmental row over the rise of “doomsday tourism” in Canada’s melting arctic region, between those who warn of the damage visitors cause to the ice and others who rely on income from tourists. 

Professor Jackie Dawson, of the University of Ottawa, who coined the term “last chance tourism”, said: “there’s this idea the landscape is changing … polar bears are shifting and moving. This has attracted a lot of tourists to come to the region. They believe it’s their last chance to see it.” It’s crucial to make ongoing assessments to balance the needs of those reliant on tourism, with the wildlife, environment, and culture of threatened regions. 

Wolf In SnowWorkingAbroad BlogsHow big is the challenge of “last chance tourism”? 

Globally, at least 1.2 million plant and animal species are estimated to be under threat of extinction, many of them before 2100. More than 44,000 animal species are threatened with extinction according to the IUCN Red List, however, this list is not exhaustive and it is a constant challenge for researchers to keep assessments current with limited resources available: so the actual number of endangered species may be much higher. 

The speed of the climate crisis and the increased threat of extinction means that this trend is unlikely to decline: and clearly, contributes to the challenge. Tourism is responsible for roughly 8% of the world’s carbon emissions: many people are familiar with flight shame (or smygflyga). Improved awareness of the impact of long haul travel and trends towards long distance train travel, could help. 

There is also evidence that visiting an ecological site may lead people to become more aware of their own impact on the environment. In a 2022 study of summer visitors to Mer de Glace, 80% said they would “try to learn more about the environment and how to protect it”. Another 82% said they would stop visiting glaciers if doing so would protect them, while 77% said they would reduce their water and energy consumption.

Bumble bee on flowerEcology in Oregon | Volunteer in the USA | Working AbroadHow can we travel responsibly? 

Since we were founded in 1997, WorkingAbroad has run programmes in over 30 countries, focused on nature conservation and sustainable community development – committed to the ethical treatment of animals: so we are very aware of the fine balance between the benefits and challenges of travel. 

We have created the WorkingAbroad Low Carbon Manifesto to meet this challenge: providing resources and support for people who want to practise “slow travel” and reduce the carbon impact of their journey. We also host ‘Snail Travel’ community groups sharing inspiring sustainable travel stories.

Other tips for responsible travel include:

  • Learn local phrases and travel with respect for the local culture in mind
  • Research local guides or conservation projects you can visit on your trip to support local communities
  • Avoid food waste: opt for self catering over food buffet options 
  • Look for accommodation that uses renewable energy 
  • When you return home, advocate for the places you enjoyed via online reviews or social media, to encourage other responsible tourists to visit
  • Try to help local wildlife at home, pollinators especially benefit from flowering gardens

Written by WorkingAbroad Blogger Sarah Cook

About the Author

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Blog articles about our volunteer projects, the wider world and from volunteers in the field are shared here for everyone to get inspired and learn more about wildlife conservation topics, volunteering abroad and much more.