Poster: Ron Mader, Certifiers
Publisher’s note: Michael Kaye passed away in July 2018. We present this popular essay from 2003.
by Michael Kaye
In their brilliant book Dangerous Game, authors James O’Shea and Charles Madigan, describe how the big consulting firms have bilked the world’s major corporations out of literally tens of billions of dollars by selling them bad advice.
While the ecotourism consulting industry has not achieved that scale, it just might be that ecotourism operators, who can ill afford to pay, are getting more bull for the buck than the Enrons and the AT&T’s.
The way I have seen that this usually happens is that consultants advise to their clients (or should I say victims) to adopt ruinous business priorities because those priorities fit the consultants business and/or political agenda.
The right priorities for a business are not a matter of choice. They are defined by forces akin to natural law. Having the right priorities does not guarantee success. But getting them wrong virtually guarantees failure.
The right priorities are in ranked order:
1. Selecting, training and retaining the right employees.
2. Attracting and exceeding the expectations of the right guests.
3. Running a safe operation.
4. Promoting conservation and benefiting local communities.
All too often ecotourism entrepreneurs are hoodwinked either by self-styled experts into thinking that their top priority should be to promote conservation and benefit local people so that the can earn the coveted Five Golden Piojos Certification. The operators are sold this bill of goods with the assurance that earning the coveted Five Golden Piojos Certification will lead to increased business from conservation minded guests — guests who almost invariably do not materialize.
If the only result were that these operations typically go bankrupt or at best hover on the edge of insolvency it wouldn’t be so bad. But I personally know of four cases where operations considered to be models of eco-tourism have been responsible for multiple guest deaths as a result of gross negligence.
It is not uncommon for the founders of these failed operations to finally figure out a viable business model. The money for them is not in operating ecotourism operations but in consulting to ecotourism operators. And now they actually have expertise — in how to win the coveted Five Golden Piojos Certification. So finally they have their priorities right and lined up with their goals, because their goal is not that their clients’ businesses succeed and prosper but rather that their clients win the coveted Five Golden Piojos Certification. Then they can truthfully claim that their clients are highly successful at earning the coveted Five Golden Piojos Certification. And the cycle goes on.
When it comes to buying advice, caveat emptor.
Author Michael Kaye was the president of Costa Rica Expeditions. This essay is adapted from a post made during the 2003 Ethical Marketing of Ecotourism Conference.