Selling conservation? Scientific legitimacy and the commodification of conservation tourism

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Colleges, School and Institutes

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  • Geography, School of Environment and Development
  • University of Manchester


Conservation tourism is a rapidly growing subsector of ecotourism that engages paying volunteers as active participants in conservation projects. Once the preserve of charities, the sector now hosts a proliferation of private companies seeking to make money by selling international conservation work to tourists as a commodity. The commodification of conservation depends upon balancing the scientific legitimacy of projects against the need to offer desirable tourist experiences. Drawing on interviews with UK tour operators and their counterparts in South Africa who run the conservation projects, we explore the transnational geography of commercial conservation tourism, charting how scientific legitimacy is constructed and negotiated within the industry. Although conservation tourism makes trade-offs between scientific rigor and neoliberal market logic, it is a partial and plural process that resists simple categorization. We conclude by considering the difference that commodification makes to conservation science, and vice versa. © 2009 by the author(s).


Original languageEnglish
Article number32
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2009


  • commodification, scientific legitimacy, conservation tourism, conservation science, South Africa, United Kingdom

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