WTM General Assembly in Medellin


Medellin – extraordinary Andean city

In Medellin at the invitation of the Secretary General of the UNWTO for its 21st General Assembly I have had the opportunity to meet with Ministers of Tourism and industry leaders to discuss how to move the Responsible Tourism agenda forward at World Travel Market and about research initiatives. It has been a productive visit.

Medellin has been a revelation for me and for all of the delegates I’ve been talking with, people have been of one mind, this is one of the most self-effacing, understated  and friendly places I, and we, have ever had the pleasure to visit. My trip has been taken as leave and hemmed in by commitments in the UK I have had little opportunity to experience the city beyond the conference hall. Many delegates have and their accounts of the friendliness and spirit of the people who live out at the ends of the metro and cable car lines are heart warming – I certainly wan tot come back to experience the city but the culture is evident amongst the the Colombians looking after us during the General Assembly – nothing  but kindness and consideration.

For my generation it is hard to get beyond Medellin’s troubled decades when it was murder capital of the world. Escobar has now been sanitized and turned into a tourism product. more


Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos addressed the General Assembly
““With peace, opportunities will multiply and all these energies and efforts devoted to the war will go into social programs…Tourism is the industry that is going to benefit the most, because, we cannot deny it, many people still do not come due to the fact that we are on the list of countries with an on-going internal armed conflict,” more

Also on Monday a gang leader and alleged ally of rebel group FARC was sentenced to 56 years in prison on Monday for a 2012 assassination attempt on former Interior Minister Fernando Londoño that killed two others and injured 27, including the politician.

In a world bedeviled by failed states it is extraordinarily uplifting to visit a place where the state no longer fails and where prosperity  is spreading through all levels of society. Colombians are quick to acknowledge what they have learned about rebuilding peace  from other countries Colombia’s vice-minister for tourism has been in Vietnam to learn how Colombia’s tourism sector could benefit if a deal is reached between the government and FARC rebels to end more than 50 years of armed conflict.more

Having visited Colombia it is easy to see how the idea of the UN Sustainable Development Goals originated here and why the theme of the UNWTO’s 21st General Assembly is Fostering Inclusive Development for Social Transformation. There has been much to learn here about tourism and development.


I think that Colombia has much to teach the world about how to rebuild a democratic state and restore prosperity. There is much for the world to learn here.


There was a time when few travelers visited Colombia, when the country was known mostly for cartels, conflicts, and coffee. But those days are over … although you’ll certainly still find great coffee in Colombia. Read more in the Huffington Post



Carbon Efficiency and Pay Back

I am editing a collection of case studies to publish on the economic payback from increasing carbon efficiency in tourism and hospitality. Examples may come for tour operators or accommodation providers, attractions, certifiers or consultants – we need data on the initiative, the change that was made, the costs and the economic payback period.



The report will be published on World Responsible Tourism Day as part of the carbon focus at this year’s WTM.


Please send examples to harold@haroldgoodwin.info



How to stop tourism industry from inadvertently fuelling child abuse

Last week was Child Protection Week in South Africa, but for the tourism industry child protection should be seen as a year-round issue. In just the last few weeks there have been reports about child trafficking to ‘stock’ orphanages in India, the Ukraine, Cambodia and Nepal. It is an issue that is getting a lot of press coverage at the moment, and one the tourism industry ignores at its peril.

Many in the industry have signed The Code; and many have trained their staff and developed management strategies so that they avoid being used by abusers and are able to support and enable their staff to report abuse when they see it. This is surely both the right thing to do, and important to reduce the reputational risk should a business unknowingly facilitate child abuse – whether in travelling families, through child labour or paedophilia.

Laurie Ahern, the President of Disability Rights International (DRI), wrote on the Huffington Post website recently that people who “donate cash and goods to orphanages or build and refurbish children’s homes and other institutions, may be inadvertently funding human trafficking.” According to Ahern: “Poor and disabled children, locked away and out of sight from families and their communities, are sitting ducks for traffickers and pedophiles. And nefarious staff are often the beneficiaries of perverse transactions where captive children are the commodity. DRI found that children are at risk of being trafficked for sex, labor, pornography and organs in a country that is a known hub for human trafficking.”

Orphanages present perhaps a different challenge. As experience in Nepal demonstrates it is very difficult to be sure that any orphanage is free of child abuse or of so-called ‘false orphans’. These are children who have been trafficked to stock an orphanage (and thus elicit funds) despite having a family. Children are purchased, or their parents are persuaded that they will get a good education, when in fact they are used to stock orphanages, or beg on the streets, to make money for criminals. In efforts to address these problems, the Nepalese government has banned children from traveling without parents or approved guardians.

The precautionary principle should surely apply to issues of child welfare. The industry needs to stop organising visits to orphanages, and placing volunteers in orphanages – because you cannot be sure that children have not been trafficked into the orphanage and that they are not being abused. You simply should not be facilitating or recommending visits to orphanages or encouraging donations.

Likewise, you should also think long and hard about the advice you give to travellers about orphanages and begging children. Tourists enable the child abusers by giving them money. Far better than people donate to recognised charities and support efforts to help children in local schools and in their families, where they belong.

At WTM last November we discussed child protection, and how it is a challenge for the industry. The industry needs to avoid being used by all kinds of child abusers and ensure that we exercise our duty of care for our travellers, including children, and do what we can to avoid the sector’s facilities being used by those travelling abroad to abuse children.

Video: Child Protection Debate WTM 2014

You can read the report of the 2014 WTM discussions on child protection here.

To keep up with developments in this issue visit the Child Protection Facebook group, where you can also share information.


Biggest ever Longlist for World Responsible Tourism Awards announced

Responsible Tourism and sustainable tourism are not the same thing. Sustainability is hard to define; it is an abstract idea of a better future for us, our children and our grandchildren. Sustainable tourism is an also an abstract idea and the agenda is so broad that very few, if any, businesses can address all of it.

So sustainable tourism is the aim, Responsible Tourism is the means by which a business becomes more sustainable. Responsible Tourism is about identifying the issues which matter locally – the economic, social and environment issues which matter to local people; the issues which affect their culture, environment and livelihoods.

In the World Responsible Tourism Awards we look for people and businesses that are using tourism to make better places for people to live in, because great places to live are great places to visit. We are looking for inspiring examples of businesses which are demonstrably making a difference, businesses which have taken responsibility and can show the results of their efforts.

The bar gets higher every year. This week we have published the longlist – the competition has been tough, so to get this far is an achievement. In our 12thyear 206 tourism businesses, organisations and initiatives from a record 69 countries have made the longlist, which for the first time contains representatives from every continent, since the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators are longlisted.

The launch this year of national awards with the Irish Centre for Responsible Tourism and the Irish Responsible Tourism Awards; and regional awards with the African Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM Africa has extended the reach of the World Responsible Tourism Awards and strengthened the competition. The partnership with World Travel Market has strengthened our programme and the Responsible Tourism programme that is now run at the WTM shows in London, Cape Town, Sao Paulo and Arabia has made a major contribution to encouraging people to take responsibility for making tourism more sustainable.

Those who have made the longlist should be proud to have made it so far and now take the time necessary to complete the documentation which will go to the judges for the next stage. It takes time to assemble the evidence that the judges expect to see on judging day, where competition is stiff and the decisions are tough.

Those who have not made it this far this year should reflect on whether they did as good a job as they could have done of telling our long-listers about how they have taken responsibility for using tourism to make better places for people to live in and what they have achieved.

The winners will be announced on WTM’s World Responsible Tourism Day, supported by UNWTO, at WTM in London on Wednesday November 4th.

The longlist is online here.

The independent judging team will debate and make their own decision as to the winners, based on the evidence and information provided to them. Any support or otherwise for the longlisted organisations can be sent to awards@responsibletravel.com.

‘These companies can afford to pay the living wage.’ Boris Johnson

Low wages and zero hour contracts aren’t issues that will go away after the general election.

Boris Johnson is the Mayor of London, his personal vision of “moral purpose” in business and politics may make disquieting reading for London hoteliers.  Boris is a potential leader of the Conservative Party and may become prime minister. He has set out his stall for the UK elections arguing that wealth creation is there to fund public service, schools and hospitals. There is a public purpose for wealth creation.

He has urged Tories to embrace the Living Wage campaign and to raise the pay of the poorest to £9.15 an hour in London and £7.85 elsewhere. He told the Evening Standard last week,  “What we are about is helping people to get a higher standard of living, to improve the quality of their lives.” For the Mayor of London the Living Wage is “critical” to his vision of “helping working people to make something of their lives.”

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have all backed the Living Wage – there are two main drivers of the rising tide of support for the campaign that started back in 2001. The first is the moral purpose argument of enabling people to make something of their lives and helping the deserving working poor.

The second argument is still more widely supported – there is mounting concern and anger about the public subsidy to profit making employers who have their labour costs subsidised by taxpayers. Pay attention to what potential future Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson said to the Evening Standard: “I think it is madness that we have big corporations that pay chief executes huge sums of money, and their lowest paid workers are subsidised by the tax payer. These companies can afford to pay the living wage.”

The Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) back in May 2012, in the context of the Olympics, announced that they had  adopted the London Living Wage, raising the earnings of 850 staff to £8.30 an hour over the next five years. Unite are claiming that IHG has made no progress in implementing its pledge and that “a large proportion of IHG workers are sub-contracted through employment agencies and earn £6.50 per hour – the legally-binding national minimum wage.”

The election in the UK has brought the issue of zero hours contracts and the casualization of work to the fore, with particular concerns about asymmetrical zero hours contracts where the workers are unable to take other work, but the employer is not required to find them 35 hours. The employer gains a flexible labour supply, the workers get a low and unstable wage and is subsidised through the welfare system by taxpayers.  The taxpayer is again subsidising the employer.

It is going to be very difficult to put these issues back in the box after the election with another round of spending cuts on welfare to come, politicians and electors are likely to be even more intolerant of subsidies for profitable companies.

There are other concerns too in the Low Pay Commission’s 2015 report.

- The Low Pay Commission in its 2015 Report says that they have “received evidence in recent years of workers engaged to clean hotel rooms, by agency and contract cleaning companies, on a per room basis. This is not illegal in itself. However, the rates were often too low for the workers to have the prospect of earning at least” the National Minimum Wage.

- Unite in their evidence to the Low Pay Commission “gave examples of how agencies, typically faced with an agreed payment from the hotel for each cleaned room, had an incentive to raise profits by increasing the number of rooms cleaned per hour.”

- Unite also drew the attention of the Low Pay Commission to ‘bogus self-employment’ becoming increasingly prevalent in employment agencies supplying workers to the hotel sector. It described a situation of a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of employment standards in the London hotel sector, fed, in its view, by widespread outsourcing to employment agencies.

- “HMRC’s investigations into businesses supplying workers in the hospitality sector (specifically hotel cleaning). Ten cases were investigated, with six of these now closed, recovering arrears of over £17,000 for 216 workers. There was an array of infringements, ranging from deductions due to attachment of earnings, uniform deductions, unpaid travel time and hotel cleaning room rates that paid below the National Minimum Wage when calculated against hours worked.” The Low Pay Commission urged HMRC to continue with enforcement operations.

First published in BlueandGreenTomorrow

Awards show responsible tourism is thriving in Ireland


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.

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.


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.

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

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.