Taylor Phillips grew up watching wildlife.
As a child in rural Virginia, Taylor and his family used to take Sunday drives to enjoy the landscape and look for deer, turkeys, and other wild animals. Those experiences set the course for his career and instilled a deep passion for the outdoors.
After graduating college with a degree in environmental studies and philosophy, Taylor came to Jackson in 2002 to find a job that would allow him to explore the area’s vast public lands. He eventually landed a position as a wildlife guide, and in 2008, started his own business, Jackson Hole EcoTour Adventures, a wildlife tour company based out of Jackson. Now, instead of deer and turkeys, he and his guides take clients to see bears, wolves, elk, moose, and the other wild animals that make their home in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
EcoTour Adventures, which is known for their small group sizes, good food, and details like nature kits that contain pelts, skulls, and claws for clients to examine, has become one of Jackson’s most popular wildlife safari providers.
In 2021, the company was awarded a Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Award, which recognizes “fantastic experiences” for travelers around the globe.
The secret to EcoTour Adventures’ success, according to Taylor, is its guides. He has invested in his staff through trainings and mentorships and benefits like competitive salaries, health insurance for full-timers, IRA contributions, and a company match for donations guides make to Old Bill’s Fun Run.
“Our guides are some of the best in the valley,” Taylor says. “It was scary looking around town this summer; everyone needed help. It was a disaster. Thankfully, we were fully staffed with incredible guides and office personnel. I feel fortunate to have a talented staff who are dedicated and committed to connecting folks to our amazing landscape.”
The other thing that makes EcoTour Adventures different is its corporate commitment to conservation. Taylor donates 2 percent of all his revenues to conservation causes.
These donations have historically gone to local nonprofits that work on wildlife issues, but in spring 2021, Taylor went a step further and started Wildlife Tourism For Tomorrow, an organization that seeks to provide long-term funding for conservation projects in Wyoming.
“Wyoming’s wildlife benefits from management by Wyoming Game and Fish,” Taylor says. “But wildlife tour companies like ours don’t make any contributions to Wyoming Game and Fish. The majority of their budget comes from hunting and fishing licenses or excise taxes on firearms and related goods. I’ve been knocking on the doors of other wildlife tour operators asking them to help give something back to Game and Fish by donating to fund conservation projects.”
Wildlife tourism is an important part of Wyoming’s tourist economy. A 2018 study by the Wyoming Office of Tourism found that 43 percent of visitors said wildlife watching was one of their top motivations for visiting the state. With that in mind, Taylor believes other tour operators should want to contribute to the well-being of local wildlife, hence his drive to establish Wildlife Tourism For Tomorrow.
Wildlife Tourism For Tomorrow’s first project was to partially fund Trout Unlimited’s efforts to place fish screens on Spread Creek’s irrigation ditches to keep native trout out of irrigation ditches, which are, according to Taylor, an “immediate death sentence” for the fish. He hopes this is just the beginning of Wildlife Tourism For Tomorrow’s impact, and says it’s the part of his business he’s currently most excited about.
Taylor’s commitment to conservation is an important part of the message EcoTour Adventures conveys to its clients. He says the highest praise he has received was from a recent client who said he’d been so moved by his experience with EcoTour Adventures that he planned to look up local conservation efforts in his hometown so he could get involved and help support a healthy environment in his own backyard.
“He was incredibly thankful for his experience with EcoTour Adventures,” Taylor says. “But what moved me was how we had actually changed him. He wanted to make a difference.”