Q: Can Certification be counted as Responsible Tourism? A:No.

Sustainable and Responsible Tourism are not the same thing, responsibility requires transparency about what you are doing and being held to account. Certification meets neither of these criteria.

I am going visit an arid area where water shortages are serious and where the local community is often without piped potable water. Will certification enable me to choose a hotel with the best, or even a good record, in the destination. No.

I choose a Gold standard certified property. I arrive, to find the air-con on in the room down to 15°C, the TV is on to welcome me, the slot on the wall where the room key is supposed to activate the lights is overridden by a piece of cardboard. I leave my used towels carefully on the rack and return to find that they have been changed. I am offended, what remedy is open to me? How do I hold the management to account?

If I complain at the front desk or to the manager they’ll scapegoat the room attendant. I have been mis-sold but I have no legal remedy against the hotel – they did not award themselves the Gold Star – I might have a case if they falsely claim a Gold Star, or their certification is out of date. But that is generally not the issue.

The people who ought to be held to account are the certificate issuing company or NGO – but the client does not have any kind of contract with those responsible for the false claims.

So no one can be held to account for the mis-selling. Irresponsibility prevails.

First published 20150216


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There is a litmus test for Responsible Tourism… and too many people are failing it.

Responsible Tourism is not the same thing as sustainable tourism – when you see the two ideas used together, as though they are coterminous, you know immediately that Responsible Tourism is not understood, let alone being practised. Sustainability is a worthy aim, too vague to be an objective. It is also passive with no imperative for action – a vague, inoperative aspiration, often used to legitimise an investment or embellish a campaign. Green-washing is rife.

Responsible Tourism places the emphasis on identifying particular issues in particular places, our world is diverse, there is no one set of priorities. Identify the issues which matter locally, carbon pollution is the only global issue; determine what people in tourism can do about it; take action and report the reduction in negative, or increase in positive impacts. Responsible Tourism requires action and transparent reporting.

Water is not a global issue, although water is an issue in many places around the world, it is not an issue everywhere. As a consumer where water is an issue I want to be able to find the most water efficient accommodation in the destination – certification does not enable me to do that, because it hides the evidence. But worse than that, if I check into a gold rated green labelled property and find that the TV is turned on there to greet me, the room is icy (both pumping out carbon pollution) and the water flow in the shower is extravagant – there is no action I can take for redress. The hotel has made no claims, I can’t go for compensation from them, they have not mis-sold. The certification body has mis-sold but I have not made a contractual relationship with them, they have provided a high quality and secure fig leaf.

The are many excellent examples of people taking responsibility on travel and tourism, people who go the extra miles to deliver products which are more responsible than they were a year or two ago and far more sustainable than their competitors – we see them every year in the World Responsible Tourism Awards presented at World Travel Market (WTM).

Responsible Tourism is about actively taking responsibility; it is about what you do. You demonstrate what you do by transparently reporting your impacts – aspirations and ‘feel good’ language is no longer enough. This year we need to redouble our efforts, to take responsibility and challenge those who either make no contribution to making our world a better place to live in or damage it. We need to put more effort into identifying and calling out irresponsibility.

Harold Goodwin’s most recent book is Taking Responsibility for Tourism www.haroldgoodwin.info.

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Orphanage Tourism is worse than many of us thought

Funding, donating to or visiting orphanages is fraught with real risks of unintended consequences, reputational damage and the funding of those with evil intent.

I have just spent two days at a Better Volunteering, Better Care “inter-agency workshop” addressing the  question  “within the field of child rights how might we redirect the efforts from orphanage “visits” to ethical alternatives that have positive outcomes?

The campaign against orphanage volunteering by responsibletravel.com which was sparked by the panel on Responsible Volunteering at WTM in 2012 when the issue was raised again by Michael Horton, Chairman and Founder of Cambodia based ConCERT. Watch the video

In Nepal there are 800 registered orphanages holding 15,000 children, two thirds of whom are NOT orphans. 90% of orphanages are in 5 districts, those which are visited by tourists – there are 75 districts in Nepal,  90% of the orphanages are in just 5 of them. Demand for visits to, and volunteering in, orphanages, creates supply.

People in the industry need to think hard about their role in creating the incentives for the unscrupulous to develop orphanages and make orphans. Families are often tricked into allowing their children go to what they are told is a good boarding school –when they try to visit what is in fact an orphanage they are turned away – parents are denied access to their children.

Martin Punkas of Next Generation Nepal talked about the work they are doing to liberate trafficked children from orphanages

Next Generation Nepal (NGN), assisted in the rescue of 18 malnourished children from an exploitative children’s home. All 18 children had to sleep in one small filthy room, sometimes with no more than a bowl of popcorn for a meal. The home did not have enough water to wash the children and its one toilet was not cleaned for weeks. The youngest child is 2 years old.

The 18 children were released from the home near Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, on November 10 at 6:43 p.m. All children were brought to the safety of the NGN-funded transitional home that same evening. One 13-year-old boy was immediately hospitalized with chronic malnutrition. – Read more

The Forget Me Not Children’s Home had an ethical framework that the donor applied, they did their due diligence, and they tried to exercise supervision. The donors had the wool pulled over their eyes for several years by the local committee which ran the centre. Donors visited two or three times a year and spent time at the orphanage – the children were threatened that they would be hurt if they spoke out.

Next Generation Nepal advised and supported Forget Me Not in the rescue of the children from the orphanage which they had previously funded. The rescue itself was led by a remarkable American woman called Eva Capozzola. In partnership with NGN, Forget Me Not went on to ensure the reunification of most of the girls with their families

The donor was tricked; despite making every effort to ensure that they were doing good, they funded bad. They’ve now switched to supporting family care.

In Cambodia, less than a quarter of children in orphanages are actual orphans. The New York Times has just this week published on Scam Orphanages in Cambodia

A government study conducted five years ago found that 77 percent of children living in Cambodia’s orphanages had at least one parent.

The empathy of foreigners — who not only deliver contributions, but also sometimes open their own institutions — helped create a glut of orphanages, according to aid workers, and the government says they now house more than 11,000 children. Although some of the orphanages are clean and well-managed, many are decrepit and, according to the United Nations, leave children susceptible to sexual abuse.

 “The number of orphans has been going down and the number of orphanages going up,” said Sarah Chhin, who helps run an organization that encourages children in orphanages who have families to return home. “We are forever having people say, ‘I’ve come to Cambodia because I want to open an orphanage.’ ”

Read more  there is also a video:

Funding, donating to or visiting orphanages is fraught with real risks of unintended consequences, reputational damage and the funding of those with evil intent.eP1010257


The workshop started the development of  ethical alternatives to orphanage tourism that have positive outcomes – they may be ready to be launched at WTM in November.

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Is TripAdvisor’s GreenLeader Scheme a game changer? Yes and No.

Yes – because it offers a way in which businesses confident in their green credentials can reach a broader consumer market.

No for four important reasons:

  1. You need to be very confident as a business to make explicit statements about you green credentials if you are to risk claims for refunds by consumers who feel you’ve not delivered as promised. Being identified on TripAdvisor as having made claims which cannot be substantiated will be painful. Any business which is fingered for false claims by a consumer on TripAdvisor will be expected to deliver a paper trail which demonstrates the veracity of their claims. Surely the best way that a business can substantiate its claims and defend itself, in the small claims court or to TripAdvisor, will be through independent audit, provided by flagship programmes like Travelife and GTBS – both based in the UK and the leading international exemplars of best practice in certification.
  2. It is not just about the green agenda – there is more to Responsible Tourism and sustainability than that – the social and economic issues matter at least as much, and to many consumers more. Travelife and GTBS both address the broader agenda.
  3. Travelife and GTBS are both successful programmes, they both have recognition in the market place – it will be good to see businesses making more of the their graded and certified status on TripAdvisor – one of the ways to benefit from Travelife and GTBS will be to get it mentioned on TripAdvisor. Travelife brings recognition from the tour operators – a TripAdvisor rating will not carry weight with them
  4. The most important part of the audit carried out by established programmes like Travelife and GTBS is the process of preparing for the visit and the learning that comes from it.

So two cheers for TripAdvisor’s Greenleaders, and three cheers for the credible certification and grading programmes; TripAdvisor will help raise awareness amongst consumers and provide an additional means for certificated and graded businesses to communicate their achievement. I see TripAdvisor as an additional opportunity for businesses graded by credible established programmes like Travelife and GTBS to gain recognition with consumers and to have the confidence to talk about their achievements.  

I asked whether TripAdvisor’s Greenleaders programme was a game changer on the WTM WRTD blog site. Here

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Cruise liners banned from Venice and then unbanned …

Back in January large cruise liners were banned from Venice’s canals because they were eroding the waterways and damaging the ecosystem with 600 cruise ships reported to have passed St Mark’s church in 2012. more 

In November it was announced that from January 2014, the number of cruise ships allowed through Venice will be cut by 20%, and from November 2014 ships of more than 96,000 tonnes will be banned from its centre. more

Now the administration court in Venice has accepted an appeal by lobbyists, including the port. They have suspended the ban, pending a review in June,  because of ‘the absence of any practical alternative navigation routes’. The judges ruled that there was ‘not sufficient preliminary research identifying risks connected to transits of ships over 40,000 tonnes in the canals in question’.

Further evidence that managing destinations is complex.




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How much does it cost to climb Everest? Surely it should cost more?

I have blogged here previously about overcrowding, traffic jams in Everest and the congestion and pollution on the mountain. In August last year the Nepalese government announced that they planned to more actively engage in managing tourism on the mountain to “help expedition teams, coordinate rescues and protect the environment.” This was in response to a high altitude fight between European climbers and Sherpas – Everest is no longer remote. In 2013 810 climbers attempted to scale Everest, 3,700 have stood on the summit and 225 climbers have died on the mountain.

The normal response to overuse of a protected area is to reduce access to conserve habitat and species – Everest is within the Sagarmartha National Park inscribed on the World Heritage site list and described on the UNESCO website as “an exceptional area with dramatic mountains, glaciers and deep valleys, dominated by Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world (8,848 m). Several rare species, such as the snow leopard and the lesser panda, are found in the park. The presence of the Sherpas, with their unique culture, adds further interest to this site.”

So you might expect the authorities to be raise the price of a permit to protect it.

On the contrary the Nepalese government has just announced that it is reducing the cost of a permit from £15,000 to £6,500 – a reduction of more than 50%. This makes no sense when the costs of managing tourism on the mountain has to be met – there is much debris to remove.  The numbers of climbers may be small but they have an army of staff and the cumulative pollution is striking.


Cutting the cost of the permits will increase numbers and pollution – it woudl be more rational to set fees at a level which covers the costs of managing the climbers and cleaning up after them.

Alan Arnette publishes detailed costs on Everest expeditions  This is yet another example of permits and user fees failing to cover the costs of adequate management and restoration – while the tourism industry takes most of the tourism spend and fails even to meet the costs of cleaning up after itself.

More on the same issue from the BBC:

“members of the Sherpa community say operators should also take the blame.

“Most of these Sherpas are young and uneducated boys who are more often exploited by expedition agencies,” Dawa Sonju Sherpa told me in Namche, the gateway to Everest base camp.

“These agencies make them do more than 70% of the work while they are paid not even 10% of what expedition agencies earn from the clients.”

Sherpa climber Mingma, who narrowly escaped the 18 April avalanche, said workers like him didn’t know how much expedition agencies charged their clients for the services they provided.

“We never have such information but what we are paid in one climbing season is much less and does not support us for even a few months.”

Available figures suggest a Sherpa climber on average earns about $5,000 during a climbing season, of which there are two a year – spring and autumn. That’s much higher than Nepal’s per capita income of about $650.

Against that, some operators can earn up to $80,000 from just one client, of whom there may be dozens a year.

International expedition companies say they pay Sherpas handsomely but many Nepalese firms that recently joined the market cut prices, and as a result some Sherpa climbers’ pay has suffered.

Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, also makes that point.

“You better ask the Expedition Operators’ Association of Nepal to make similar standards as that of international operators – that is the most important thing,” he told the BBC, insisting his own company was already doing that.”

Read more of the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-27907058




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What issues are responsible tourism issues?

It was back in 2007 that World Travel Market broadened their Environment Day and took up the idea of Responsible Tourism using the definition adopted at the 1st International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations in the Cape Town Declaration. This year sees the 8th conference in this series taking place in the UK for the first time, in Manchester on the 3rd and 4th April.

Responsible Tourism is about responding to the issues, it is about what we do to address the economic, social and environmental issues raised or caused by tourism around the world. Any kind of tourism can be more responsible, it can be more or less irresponsible. It is about using tourism to make better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit. It is not about developing long lists of issues, it is about identifying the issues which matter locally and tackling them. It is about not being irresponsible and about taking responsibility for doing what you can to address the issues. The aspiration of Responsible Tourism is to use tourism rather than to be used by it, all forms of tourism can be more responsible.

The objective of the WTM’s Responsible Tourism programme is to educate, inspire and to challenge the industry to take responsibility for making tourism more sustainable. WTM is world’s largest Responsible Tourism event with 2000 participants in its programme over three days. Last year the programme was extended to WTM Latin America and this year to WTM Africa. We address economic issues, the environmental challenges and social problems. Last year TUI Nederland won the overall Responsible Tourism award at WTM for their work in developing policies and training staff to identify child abuse, whether amongst the families for whom they provide holidays or abuse perpetrated by travellers in the destination. TUI Nederland demonstrated real leadership by raising the issue with travellers and encouraging them to report suspicious behaviour.


For the industry the challenge of child protection has to be addressed by agents in the originating markets, airlines, accommodation providers, tour operators, guides and taxi drivers. Resort staff and reps face the challenge of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children travelling with them, at risk by the pool or abandoned by their parents. Taking care over visits to orphanages which may house trafficked children, carpet factories and craft markets which may raise issues of child labour, child protection is not just about paedophilia. Child protection is being addressed at all WTM’s shows this year,

Responsible Tourism is about making a difference and any tourism business can take responsibility, respond to an issue and make a difference. It is about what you do. We need to look beyond the label – not all forms of ecotourism are responsible. When I managed adult education courses in another life on of my part-time tutors ran a current affairs class with the strap line “never mind the patter watch the hands.” Transparent and credible reporting of the positive and negative impacts of travel and tourism is essential to progress in Responsible Tourism

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Falling real wages in the UK must constrain the growth in demand for holidays

Just before Christmas I blogged about research by the Joseph Rowntree Trust which reported  that that since 2008 there has been an “unprecedented erosion of household living standards” thanks to rapid inflation and flat-lining wages which suggests that many families are unable to afford a holiday and many more are having to be very careful about how much they spend.

Now the UK’s Office of National Statistics has looked at the trends in real wages in the UK.

UKRealWages“Real wages growth was volatile during the 1970s when inflation rates were high and variable. Since then growth has fluctuated less, but has been on a broadly downwards trend. There appear to have been small step changes down in real wages growth occurring around the end of each decade, perhaps in response to the UK or global recessions which occurred at those times. Annual real wage growth averaged 2.9% in the 1970s and 1980s, then roughly halved to 1.5% in the 1990s. The rate slowed again to an average of 1.2% in the 2000s, and real wages fell by 2.2% per annum between Q1 2010 and Q2 2013. The chart also shows that the recent episode is the longest sustained period of falling real wages in the UK on record.”

Read their analysis – it is available on-line

Demand cannot be unaffected by trends in real wages.

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Kerala Honoured for its Achievements in Responsible Tourism


Kerala2Last week Kerala won the prestigious UNWTO Ulysses Award for Innovation in Public Policy and Governance, the highest honour given to government bodies for shaping global tourism policies through innovative initiatives. Now in its tenth year, the UNWTO Ulysses Awards celebrate outstanding contributions in the field of tourism across the globe. As UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai said last week  “The UNWTO Awards represent our belief that knowledge plays a central role in tourism and it is through innovation and the application of knowledge that we can advance towards a more sustainable and competitive tourism sector in line with the principles of our Global Code of Ethics.”kerala7


‘Kerala, a popular ecotourism destination, portrays responsible and sustainable tourism in an exceptional manner’, said UNWTO Secretary-General, Mr. Taleb Rifai, at the awards ceremony.  “This recognition conferred upon the state is a great step towards creating a better understanding among other destinations of the principles we stand for,” he added, wishing Kerala Tourism “continued success”.  The Kumarakom initiative has previously won the National Award for Best Rural Tourism Project in March last year and the PATA Grand Award for Environment.


Kerala Tourism was awarded for its path-breaking Responsible Tourism project in Kumarakom, where the Department has demonstrated leadership in working with business and the communities to make better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit. Their initiative has successfully linked the local community with accommodation providers encouraging the creation of local employment and local sourcing of goods and services for the industry in Kumarakom. The Department of Tourism in Kerala has successfully established a model which has empowered the local community to secure development and to manage the environmental impact of tourism on the farming land and the Vembanad Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Kerala, heavily trafficked by houseboats.


By 2007 it was clear that the growth of tourism in the area needed to be managed if it was to be sustainable and if local communities were to use tourism for their development rather than to be used by it. Kumarakom has been declared a Special Tourism Zone by the Kerala state Government under the terms of the  Kerala Tourism Act, 2005


Kerala approached the Responsible Tourism Partnership to host the 2nd International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations in 2008. Dr Venu Vasudevan then Secretary for Tourism in the state saw the potential to use a Responsible Tourism approach to address the challenge of using tourism for sustainable local development in Kerala. He and I co-chaired the conference which focused on the contribution which different stakeholders could make to the realisation of Responsible Tourism.

There is much more about Responsible Tourism in Kerala on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/groups/rtkerala/

Dr Venu, now Joint Secretary in the national Ministry of Culture, was modest in his acknowledgment of the success of the Kumarakom initiative, but it was initiated and nurtured by him. He wrote “Congratulations to team Kerala Tourism, Kumarakom Panchayat, the hoteliers and stakeholders for this wonderful recognition. Special kudos to Sivasankar, Rupesh Kumar K and Jose Ulloppillil Varkey, whose efforts need special mention.”  Kerala’s Responsible Tourism policy is now firmly established having been maintained through a change of government.

Kerala Tourism Minister Mr. A P Anilkumar said “We are humbled by the UNWTO’s decision to confer this highest international award on our state … It is a recognition of our continuing efforts to sustain global tourism, which can progress only if we consider the local community as our biggest partner.. By building healthy private-public partnerships at the local level with the active involvement of the local community, we can create jobs locally, improve the lives of members of the local community and preserve its culture and ethos through sustainable tourism.

Kerala Tourism Secretary Mr. Suman Billa, who received the Ulysses Prize at the awards ceremony said:  “We are delighted that Kumarakom has become a model for sustainable tourism to the world … Our ‘Responsible Tourism’ model shows that the future of tourism lies in initiatives at the grassroots level. ” adding that  “The UNWTO award also bestows upon us the added responsibility of working even harder in the future by achieving higher standards in practicing tourism.”

Kerala Tourism Director Mr.  S Harikishore said  “The Kumarakom project has become successful because of the hard work by all its partners, from the local community to local hospitality organizations and local government departments to the state tourism department staff, and above all the support of our esteemed travellers from around the world.”

Launched in 2008, the Kerala Tourism’s ‘Responsible Tourism’ initiative in Kumarakom involves the Gram Panchayat, Kudumbashree, District Tourism Promotion Council and local hospitality industry besides the government departments of agriculture and health, to achieve sustainable tourism by creating job opportunities and practicing eco-tourism objectives.

Kerala is pursuing Responsible Tourism initiatives in four main tourism destinations Kumarakom, Wayanad, Kovalam and Thekkady. It has been most successful in Kumarakom. The reasons why Kumarakom has emerged as a leader are complex, and will doubtless be debated. But amongst the reasons are the support of the Panchayat, the local government, and of hoteliers like Jose Dominic of CGH Earth’s Coconut Lagoon.

When Mrs. M R Dhanya, Panchayat President for Kumarakom spoke at WTM in November 2011 she said that before the Responsible Tourism initiative by the state government the local panchayat had never been  involved in tourism development activities: “the tourism industry considered Panchayat as their enemies as panchayat often had to fight with them on the issues of non tax payment, unauthorised constructions and polluting the backwaters. The local population also was considering the industry as intruders in their territory.”

Things changes with the initiative of the Kerala Department of Tourism, in Mrs Dhanya’s words: “Panchayat responded very positively by preparing a supply calendar for the supply of locally available materials like vegetable, fish, milk, meat and other non-perishable items to the hotels and resorts. We have also initiated activities to increase the production of these items and enhance quality. Part of the plan allocation in agriculture is utilised for distributing seeds and manure for vegetable cultivation. Last year we have used about

250,000 Indian Rupees for this purpose. We have also supplied chicks, lambs etc to the women in the panchayat to enable more meat, milk and egg supply to the hotels and resorts. Women self-help groups were formed under Kudumbasree to support production and supply systems.”

She concluded “I feel very proud in stating before you that the RT initiative at Kumarakom has proved the potential of tourism to provide sustainable livelihood to the local community. The success at Kumarakom is the result of team work and the commitment to work together…. This model can be effectively used in making destinations more sustainable.”

UV Jose (Jose Ulloppillil Varkey) Jose Dominic and Mrs. M R Dhanya have all spoken on the Responsible Tourism panels at WTM.

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London is the "greatest city on the planet".

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, concludes from the latest overseas visitor figures that London is  the “greatest city on the planet”. Figures from the Office for National Statistics indicate that in the first nine months of 2013 London had 12.8m visitors, an increase of 12% over 2012. But the increase in visitor spend was only 5%

Provisional estimates suggest that in the first nine months of 2013 there were nearly 25 million international visits to the UK, a rise of 11% year on year.

The figures for the third quarter July to September reveal the UK tourism deficit.

Visits to the UK by overseas residents increased by 12.1% to 9.9 million, number of nights increased by 9.2% and earnings by 11.4% to £7.2bn

Visits abroad by UK residents increased by 6.9% to 20.6 million, the number of nights spent abroad increased by 9.2% and expenditure abroad increased by 8.3% to £12.7bn.

The balance of trade deficit on travel and tourism continues, standing at £5.5bn

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Harold Goodwin