Communicating sustainable whale and dolphin tourism: Interview with World Cetacean Alliance

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The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) is the world’s largest partnership working to protect cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and their habitats in the world’s oceans, seas and rivers, to ensure their continued health and survival. Its local-to-global approach aims to deliver a sustainable future for the world’s cetaceans, their habitats, and the global community of people reliant upon the sea. The WCA promotes responsible marine interactions and sustainable fishing alternatives, whilst raising awareness of issues such as net entanglement, habitat loss, and captivity.

Dylan Walker World Cetacean Alliance
Dylan Walker

For this interview, the fourth in our series talking with all the finalists for this year’s World Responsible Tourism Awards, Anula Galewska speaks with Dylan Walker, Chief Executive Officer at World Cetacean Alliance.

Anula: How do you communicate your efforts towards sustainable tourism?

Dylan: Our vision is for a World where whales and dolphins (cetaceans) are only found in the wild, are respected and fully protected, and live in sustainable habitats and in harmony with people everywhere. We communicate our message primarily through our 70 partners operating in 35 countries worldwide, including responsible tour operators and NGOs, all of which are focused on engaging the public on the major issues affecting cetaceans and the oceans.

Anula: What’s your biggest challenge in communicating sustainability?

Dylan: Nevermind sustainability, we have to communicate the word ‘cetacean’! Seriously, I think people are increasingly aware of the need to adopt a sustainable approach, but the problem is that they often lack the inspiration to do so. Reducing water and electricity usage isn’t very exciting. So what’s the hook? We recently launched our Whale Heritage Site programme, accrediting places around the world where people and cetaceans live in respectful harmony and where responsible wildlife tourism takes place. We’ve included some important sustainability criteria in the programme, but it’s not what we lead with. In short, we lead with saving whales, and follow with reducing plastic consumption – and it’s working!

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Anula: How do you engage local community in what you do?

Dylan: I think that two of our watchwords would be ‘be creative’ and ‘have fun’. Sadly we are dealing with enormous and often overwhelming issues with impacts felt across the world: plastic pollution, climate change, overfishing etc. We try to break down these issues into bite sized chunks, challenges and campaigns that we can make progress, and then look to engage people with them in a fun and interactive way. From whale festivals to enormous street art, ‘strong man’ challenges to Mermaid Marches, we involve the public in a bunch of positive experiences that carry a clear and consistent message, along with simple actions that the public can take.

Anula: How do you engage your suppliers in what you do?

Dylan: As a global partnership of organisations and individuals working to protect cetaceans, our suppliers are really our partners. The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) connects partners at both national and international levels, enabling the Alliance to deliver coordinated and practical strategies on the ground in many countries and locations worldwide; whilst also representing the views of all partners on the international stage.

“we involve the public in a bunch of positive experiences that carry a clear and consistent message, along with simple actions that the public can take”

This local-to-global approach aims to deliver a sustainable future for the world’s cetaceans, their habitats, and the global community of people reliant upon the sea. The WCA promotes responsible marine interactions and sustainable fishing alternatives, whilst raising awareness of issues such as net entanglement, habitat loss, and captivity.

the-world-cetacean-alliance-landscapes

Anula: What is unique or innovative about your marketing and communication approach? 

Dylan: The World Cetacean Alliance is a cross-sectoral partnership supported by a registered charity in the UK, the Secretariat. What’s unusual here is that our partners come from the travel industry and also from the science, welfare and conservation community. It gives us a unique insight, because we understand the challenges involved in delivering sustainable solutions from an industry perspective, yet we are also bound to act on behalf of species and habitats at all times. This means we tend to adopt a holistic and inclusive approach, and are increasingly finding that this is our most effective strategy.

Anula: What have you learned about marketing so far, what works and what doesn’t?

Dylan: If you have a good story to tell, something that people can relate to or want to do something about, then the message will spread. For us the key isn’t the channels, it’s the content. Simple!

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Anula: What motivated you to apply for World Responsible Tourism Awards?

Dylan: We’ve been big fans of WRTA for years and we love the activism work that Responsible Travel initiate too. Many of the winners of the awards have been small organisations and it’s easy to see that winning this award is a really positive thing for them, and deserved recognition for their hard work. We’d love to be recognised in the same way, especially for the hundreds of volunteers that make us tick.

Anula: What expectations do you have if you win?

Dylan: Our Wild and Free campaign – encouraging people to stop attending captive cetacean circus shows and instead watch them responsibly in the wild – is aimed firmly at the travel industry and the travelling public. For us, winning this award would represent another key milestone in the campaign itself, and recognition that the work that we have done has encouraged travel industry representatives and travellers to think carefully about the ethics of keeping large, intelligent and wide ranging mammals in tiny tanks to perform in shows. It’s a case of the public reacting strongly on an issue and the travel industry slowly catching up. If winning this award helps to keep this important issue at the top of the agenda until it is resolved once and for all, then we’d be delighted!


world cetacean allianceTo find out more, check out The World Cetacean Alliance websiteFacebook and Twitter, and also Whale Heritage Sites website and Twitter.

world-responsible-tourism-awards-2016-logoThis article is part of the interview series with the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2016 finalists, with whom we explore the best practices in marketing and sustainable tourism communications. The rest will be published between now and the opening of World Travel Market on November 7th.

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