Ecotourism, conservation biology, and volunteer tourism: A mutually beneficial triumvirate Academic Article uri icon


  • Funding for basic conservation research is chronically lacking. The potential for ecotourism to fund conservation research exists, but has been little explored. One branch of ecotourism with funding potential is volunteer tourism, where conservation scientists and recruiting agencies develop research projects and volunteers provide funding and labor. We examine the costs and benefits of a three-way partnership among a conservation research project (The Tambopata Macaw Project), an ecotourism operator (Rainforest Expeditions), and a volunteer-recruiting NGO (the Earthwatch Institute). From November 1999 to December 2006, Macaw Project researchers invested about 1700 h in giving research presentations and interacting with ecotourists and received from Rainforest Expeditions ∼$278,000 worth of salaries, transportation, food, and lodging (total cost to Rainforest Expeditions ∼$98,000). Since 2001, researchers invested 2300 h in training and supervising volunteers and related activities and received from Earthwatch 328 volunteers, ∼13 000 h of volunteer labor and $115,000 in research funding. Rainforest Expeditions received $175,000 in fees from Earthwatch for food and lodging for volunteers. In this association, all parties benefited financially: the research received >$400,000 in cash, goods and services, Earthwatch retained $387,000 in volunteer fees, and Rainforest Expeditions received nearly $300,000 in gross income. Additional benefits to Rainforest Expeditions included services for their guests and free marketing through research related publications and word of mouth. We discuss ways to structure projects to maximize the benefits and the potential of this model for funding other long-term conservation research projects. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

altmetric score

  • 6

author list (cited authors)

  • Brightsmith, D. J., Stronza, A., & Holle, K.

citation count

  • 95

publication date

  • November 2008