A new collaboration with Exodus Travels opens opportunities for tour operators and travelers to help regenerate biodiversity at degraded destinations — and a thoughtful model with which to reopen global travel.
When people begin traveling again, those hiking across the Italian Apennines with UK-based tour operator Exodus Travels will directly fund protection of the land that they walk on. In January, the company announced a partnership with Rewilding Europe — a pan-European initiative that operates in eight large rewilding areas across the continent. Rewilding Europe works with more than 100 partners; but this is its first partnership with a travel company, creating a model for additional tourism businesses to follow.
“We were drawn to opportunities to regenerate rather than just mitigate, and I think that’s common across many other fellow travel companies,” said Kasia Morgan, head of sustainability and community at Exodus Travels. “The very nature of what we do drives a compassionate desire to leave the places we visit better off than when we found them.”
Rewilding is an approach to environmental conservation and ecological restoration that lets nature repair and take care of itself. It emphasizes natural processes to restore degradation, ultimately increasing biodiversity and creating sustainable environments. From the return of jaguars in Argentina’s Iberá Wetlands to wildflowers repopulating Britain’s meadows, rewilding is increasingly turned to as a nature-based solution to slow environmental damage and address the climate emergency.
Within the tourism industry, this is an opportunity to financially support conservation in destinations around the world, reduce its overall carbon footprint, and engage travelers in the larger climate conversation. As Timon Rutten, head of enterprise at Rewilding Europe, points out:
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“This is a much more appealing story than just buying carbon credits off the market. Because this is land-focused, you can actually visit the place.”
This ability to step foot on the rewilded land was fundamental to the Nature & Carbon Corridors Project that Exodus and Rewilding Europe have established. This project aims to rewild 5,000 hectares of the Italian Apennines over the course of five years by promoting recovery of regional biodiversity. It is intended to create five nature corridors connecting surrounding national parks, which will allow for the safe passage of local wildlife (including endangered Marsican bears, wolves and wild cats) between the parks. An average of 100 square meters of land will be rewilded for every passenger on every Exodus trip.
“We’re keen to invest in solutions that are on our doorsteps,” Morgan said, citing a desire to approach climate mitigation and environmental conservation from a holistic perspective. The majority of Exodus Travels’ clients currently visit Italy, and the company is looking to develop trips that specifically visit the Apennines. “If we’re talking as a travel company about the beauty of this particular part of Italy, we imagine a lot of our clients will want to go and see for themselves — see the wildlife we’re helping flourish. It’s truly a sustainable loop, and proves the importance of rewilding and the incentives of rewilding and protecting biodiversity,” she said.
Its commitment to fund rewilding aligns with Exodus Travels’ science-based target to halve its carbon footprint by 2030. Once it is rewilded, the land in the Italian Apennines will provide an effective carbon sink, capturing approximately 85,000 tons of carbon over five years. Until maximum sequestration potential is reached, the company is investing in carbon credits through South Pole.
While Rewilding Europe’s focus is on revitalizing biodiversity, the tourism industry’s commitment to climate action makes rewilding an appealing long-term investment, and many companies are beginning to test the waters. Much Better Adventures, for example, recently launched its rewilding adventures collection, which features activities like hiking and snowshoeing led by conservation guides and wildlife trackers. The trips directly support rewilding efforts across Europe in collaboration with three organizations including Rewilding Europe.
Yet, long-term partnerships like the one between Exodus Travels and Rewilding Europe are still in their infancy; and with the tourism industry’s current tumultuous state, a multi-year commitment to rewilding projects right now is a hard sell. “It is appealing for travel companies, but they are having a tough time at this moment. I think we have to be realistic about how much they can do right now,” Rutten said.
Nonetheless, looking at the bigger, planetary picture, Rutten said he sees potential for more partnerships — especially for travel companies willing to look beyond the narrative that carbon neutrality begins and ends by offsetting carbon.
“That is a narrow view of what you can achieve with your company. We want to open the debate that you can become carbon neutral, but you can achieve much more than that,” he said. “The ambition can be higher, but they have to have an open debate and be creative. Don’t purely focus on carbon — keep an open mind.”