ESTC16 Attendees: Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel

ESTC16 Attendees: Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel


Bret Love & Mary Gabbet

 

 

The Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference gathers hundreds of ecotourism professionals around the world to unique and remarkable destinations. Focusing on advancement and sustainability of tourism, the event offers great opportunities for learning, networking, and fun. As a leading platform for industry professionals, TIES is excited that Bret Love and Mary Gabbett from Green Global Travel will be attending ESTC16 in Botswana.

 

Can you tell us about your professional background and why you started Green Global Travel?

 

Sure! Mary was a Psychology major at Emory University, and for 10 years managed a small company that provided personality assessments for corporate HR departments. She’s got great people skills, is incredibly well-organized, and has lots of experience running a vision-based business.

 

I was a Music/Business major and started out professionally as a music journalist. I got my first Managing Editor gig in 1995, and eventually got offers to work with major outlets like Rolling Stone and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I've been a full-time freelance writer/editor ever since. On the side, I played in numerous bands and performed professional improv comedy. When Mary & I met in 2008, our mutual love of culture, travel and cuisine made us a perfect fit. Our first business together was actually a successful improv comedy company in Atlanta.

 

Professionally, I was growing frustrated as a writer: I was getting many assignments from my airline and hotel magazine clients, but most weren't interested in the stories about ecotourism and conservation that I longed to tell.

 

When Mary got laid off after a company buyout in 2010, we had long discussions about what she wanted to do next. The personality assessment jobs she interviewed for would've consumed all her time and paid much less than she was worth. And we both really wanted to travel more. So I told her about my dream of starting a magazine that would spread the gospel of ecotourism. It was on a press trip to Tortuguero National Park that we decided we should start our own travel blog, and we planned out the basic details at the bar of Mawamba Lodge during a fierce tropical storm.

 

Green Global Travel was designed to pay tribute all of the iconic brands that had influenced me and the way I love to travel, from National Geographic and WWF to Jacques Cousteau. We really wanted to– to paraphrase our tagline– use our site to make the world a better place, one story at a time, by inspiring people to live and travel more sustainably. Five years later, we've worked with all of the brands that inspired us in some capacity: In fact, I just got my first freelance assignment from NatGeo's website a few weeks ago!


ecotourism bloggersWhen did you first hear about ecotourism?

 

When I traveled to South Africa's Kruger National Park in 2000, it was the culmination of an intensely personal dream seven years in the making. The immense power of the experiences I had there– watching 7-month-old cheetah cubs frolicking on the open plain, wild dogs digging under a fence to get back into the park, a massive bull elephant coming so close to our Jeep that I could feel his breath on my face– changed my life forever.

 

It wasn’t just the beauty of seeing these magnificent animals in their natural habitat that moved me. It was the passion with which the rangers and guides at Londolozi and Phinda Game Reserves spoke of preserving this incredible gift for generations to come, and the way locals spoke of ecotourism as their hope for a better and brighter economic future. When I saw how responsibly managed ecotourism was transforming these people's lives, I never wanted to travel any other way after that.

 

During my stay at Simunye Zulu Lodge, I had the great fortune of singing and playing percussion with a local musician from the village. He spoke no English and I spoke no Zulu, but we managed to have a dialogue through the universal language of music as we sat by the campfire and the entire village crowded around to listen. The next day, through a translator, he said he wanted to give me a Zulu name– Ithemba, which means Hope– because I gave him hope for the future. My life's mission is to spread that message of hope by preaching the benefits of ecotourism to the masses.


ecotourism leaders at ESTC16As an ecotourism blogger, what are your main insights?

 

First off, blogging is an incredibly powerful tool for reaching average travelers. Mary & I only work on Green Global Travel part-time, as we still do a lot of freelance work and we have our own digital media services agency, Green Travel Media. But still our stories reach around 40,000 people each month through the blog, and we have around 50,000 social media followers. The fact that our little niche-focused site can reach that many people astounds me!

 

Secondly, I believe in what former TIES Executive Director Martha Honey told me during our Keynote Session at the TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) Conference in Mexico last year: "When we're talking about ecotourism, I believe we have a superior product." I think ecotourism is better for local communities, better for nature and wildlife, better for the local economy, and better for the traveler. It's the ONLY form of tourism that is sustainable in the long-term, and I don't know a single person who's ever experienced a responsibly managed ecotourism trip and NOT come away feeling as if their life had been transformed.

 

Lastly, I think the ecotourism and conservation industries on the whole need to do a much better job of marketing and communication to the masses. All too often scientists, conservationists, animal rights activists, developers and tour operators seem content to preach to the choir rather than reaching out and trying to convert traditional sun-and-sand travelers. Statistics show that the growth of this kind of travel is outpacing that of any other form, but it's not something you read about in many mainstream publications. I would love to see more partnerships between ecotourism brands and bloggers, to help take this message directly to the people and circumvent corporate media.


What is one of your most memorable ecotourism success stories?

 

Well, the one I'm proudest of is a charity project we oversaw through our Green Travel Media arm earlier this year. It was a fundraiser for Rhinos Without Borders, an initiative launched by National Geographic Explorers-In-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert to save endangered Rhinos by translocating 100 of them from South Africa to Botswana to protect them from the tragic rise in poaching.

 

Working as Project Managers, we enlisted over 120 travel bloggers from all around the world to join our #JustOneRhino campaign. We educated these bloggers on the core issues involved in poaching and rhino conservation, and gave them the information they needed to create blog posts and social media support. We attracted 22 major sponsors to donate more than $30,000 worth of travel prizes to offer donors, including five Platinum sponsors who contributed prizes valued at over $5000 each. In the end, the campaign drew more than 250 individual donors, raising nearly $15,000 for rhino conservation.

 

We hope to do a lot more of this kind of work going forward, and are looking into turning Green Global Travel into a non-profit foundation next year to make the fundraising process a little easier.


What are your thoughts on the state of ecotourism in Africa?

 

In my eyes Africa was the original birthplace of ecotourism, and also the place where responsibly managed, community-driven ecotourism initiatives could have the most benefit. I think the European colonialists did some pretty severe long-term damage to the continent, and the repercussions of that will remain a challenge for many years to come.

 

But I look at what countries like Botswana, Rwanda and Namibia are doing with fighting poaching, managing natural resources and building up community-driven ecotourism projects and it gives me great hope. Africa's people, cultures and nature/wildlife have had a special place in my heart ever since my best friend spent 5 years there (in Burundi, Gabon and Zambia) in the Peace Corps in the mid-'90s.

 

As we travel to Tanzania & Rwanda in September and Botswana, Zimbabwe & Zambia around ESTC, we hope find ways we can use Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media to help shine a light on some of the great work that's being done in these countries.


networking opportunitiesWhy are you attending ESTC16 in Botswana?

 

So many reasons! TIES co-founder Megan Epler Wood has been a huge influence on our work, and something of a personal mentor as well. So getting a chance to speak directly to TIES members about what we do and how they can use tools such as blogging, branding, social media and SEO to both build their business and inspire people means the world to us. Although we've spoken at 6 conferences in the last year, this will be our first ESTC. So we're excited to meet new people, learn new things and hopefully share the things we learn with our readers.

 

The fact that ESTC16 is being held in Botswana is a HUGE draw for us. First, because it will give us a chance to visit Dereck and Beverly Joubert and their Great Plains Conservation camps, and hopefully see some of those rhinos we helped raise money for! Secondly, because of the proximity to bucket list destinations such as the Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park and Victoria Falls. I've dreamed of visiting these places for decades, so the fact that we'll be able to see them all next year is incredibly exciting. And thirdly, because of all the great, innovative conservation work Botswana has been doing.

 

One of the things we love about our job is the ability to find out what's working in one place and then share that information, becoming part of a global ecosystem of sustainable ecotourism knowledge. If we can inspire other ESTC16 attendees to do the same, then the conference fits perfectly with our mission to make the world a better place, one story at a time.  

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