Upskilling Nature-Positive Tourism Professionals

Tourism for Nature and People: Training and Skills Building for Nature-Positive Tourism Professionals

Aukje van Gerven, a nature-based tourism leader focused on capacity building, shares her story of finding her professional path combining passions for travel and nature, and working for nature-positive tourism that is good for wildlife, biodiversity, people and communities.
Aukje van Gerven
Aukje van Gerven

Co-Founder, MOYO Training Foundation

Looking towards the Bison Release site, Romania (Photo by Aukje van Gerven)

Travelling Slowly, Seeing the World Differently

Even though I travelled quite a bit in my twenties, I think for me it all really started in my early thirties after a long bike expedition – when I cycled from Tanzania to the Netherlands.

Cycling through the Massai Mara in Tanzania (Photo by David Henley)

This was a completely different way of travelling than what I had experienced before. No flights, no trains, no buses, no hotels, not even backpacks. Instead, I cycled 50 to 100 kilometres a day through the steep hills and wet terrain of East Africa, the rough and hot deserts in Northern Africa and the Middle East, and finally the hustle and bustle of Europe.

Cycling at the base of Mt Kenya (Photo by Jon Earle)

With nothing more than two panniers with the essentials and exposed to the elements and the people around us, my take on tourism changed for good. If you travel slowly, you see the impact that tourism has on the environment, and tourism dollars have on the communities, and it became so clear that tourism needs to be done right: with respect for people and the planet.

Working for Nature, Wildlife and Biodiversity

After my long journey I started to work in and for nature as the director of a small non-profit organisation, Respect the Mountains. For five years I advocated for European mountain areas and their sustainable use.

Advocating for sustainable mountain tourism (Photo by Jon Earle)

After this I took on a new job at the European Safari Company, and this is where the link between nature, wildlife, biodiversity, and tourism became clear: we designed wildlife safaris that were good for local communities, respectful towards wildlife, and gave back to nature.

Unfortunately, this small travel company could not survive financially, despite best efforts, intentions and really putting the most amazing European wildlife safaris forward that had a positive local impact. But I learnt from this experience that the travel industry is ready for change, and that people, planet and profit can go hand in hand when the right conditions are met.  

As Wildlife Tourism Manager of Rewilding Europe, I was in charge of tourism development for the ten Rewilding Landscapes in Europe, and co-created a training programme helping upskill guiding and nature-based tourism professionals in the area of wildlife tourism.

Combining Passions for Travel and Nature

When my love for travel, nature and wildlife finally came together in the last five years, I knew I was in the right place professionally. I haven’t looked back since. This is what I want to do.
While I myself have over the years benefitted from travelling in natural areas, I strongly believe that nature is not just an environment in which people can enjoy themselves, but one that needs to be respected and cared for. And that’s the message I want to help spread as widely as possible.

With Simon Collier, co-founder of MOYO Training Foundation (Photo by Alice Giancaterino)

Co-founding MOYO Training Foundation this year has been an absolute milestone. I have witnessed with my own eyes what the impact of a Nature Positive Training programme is, and how much value can be added for the lives and businesses of nature-based tourism entrepreneurs and nature guides.

I’ve learnt first-hand about the essential role these professionals play in the natural areas that they operate in, and seen tremendous potential for spreading the impact even more broadly, as they educate their guests. Tourism is uniquely positioned to be a positive force for nature, wildlife and biodiversity, because people are more receptive to key messages around conservation when they experience warm hospitality, fun and enjoyment.
By teaching our participants how they can implement nature positive measures into their profession and businesses, our training programme is contributing to the goal of helping tourism become more nature positive. The first training courses we completed this year have been a great success, and I hope many more will follow!