Taking Ownership of Operations: What Responsible Travel Means to PlanetWildlife

Continuing the celebration and promotion of WTM Responsible Tourism Day, PlanetWildlife carries on the dialogue with Sarath Champathi, the company’s advisor and wildlife specialist. Today’s conversation is focused on Sarath’s role with responsible wildlife travel and how PlanetWildlife carries out its mission of responsible operations and wildlife conservation.

Q: Can you tell us about your role with the company?

A: I advise PW on signature tours. I have been to East Africa frequently and that is the main signature tour we do every year. I focus our tours on wildlife conservation and conservation programs. For the last year, we have been exploring different markets. I also do strategic planning for company on where the wildlife is. I initially go on the trip if I don't know the product already, and build knowledge and expertise. Previously, I’ve worked as a naturalist and trainer of naturalists.

Q: As an operator in sensitive and wild habitats, does PW have a responsibility to operate responsibly? Why?

A: 100%! PW definitely has a responsibility towards that. We have to make all efforts to go in that direction and adopt best practices and responsible practices.

Q: What are some of the company’s practices that support the ideals of responsible tourism day?

A: We need to associate ourselves with responsible operators and guides on the ground. When our tours and other things happen, our clients end up with responsible practices. The guided trips are always conducted in such a way it automatically translates into the responsibility of the clients. It makes a big difference. We also focus on the ground practices, such giving space to the wildlife. This avoids overcrowding, but also grants the clients better sightings away from the crowds. In wildlife hotspots with so many people are coming and going the presence of the tour leader makes a big difference. We mainly deal with responsible practitioners in turn and responsible practices on the ground level, from guides to accommodations. At the broader level, PW supports conservation programs directly and indirectly. We make clients aware of those programs through our website. The company was involved in relocating the endangered species gaur in India. We funded the entire the program and we support those kinds of efforts.

Q: One of the goals of WTM is to drive change through education. How do you view this mission in regards to your work with PW?

A: Education directly is not done so easily, so we focus on operating through good guides and tour leaders, which ultimately leads to good education of our clients. Proper education of guides makes a big difference and advances the conservation mission. I had kids with us on a recent tour and through proper guiding the kids became more aware of local birds, habitat and other things as a direct result of the trip.

We have the best possible guides and we are very choosy about who we deal with. The website also features a lot information relating to parks and the wildlife themselves. There is a quite a decent database and it allows travellers to learn more about the conservation values.

Q: How is your role in the company critical to responsible operations?

A: I educate the local guides and drivers on responsible practices and the importance of responsible practices. I have been seeing and dealing with these guides for many years now. They are very knowledgeable compared to some of the other operators. There is a very open nature. There is a good working relationship with them and it is making a big difference.

Q: Is PlanetWildlife continually evolving its responsible practices?

Absolutely! Just recently, in the Arctic, we did an audit of how our suppliers operate on the ground. PW is constantly evaluating new ways to be more responsible, especially as we grow.

About Sarath Champathi, Advisor and Wildlife Specialist

Sarath Champati is a prominent naturalist and trainer who has experience in not only conceptualizing wildlife/nature based activities for tourists, but also entire training courses for other naturalists as well. He started his career in his chosen profession as Chief Naturalist for Jungle Lodges and Resorts at the Kabini River Lodge. He has worked in India and South Africa in Taj Safaris and CC Africa (now and beyond). Sarath has successfully spearheaded the concept of high-end wildlife tourism in India.

This is the second part of a two-part series highlighting the relationship between travel, sustainability and, the importance that PlanetWildlife places upon this issue.