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.




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.




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

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.

Kerala Honoured for its Achievements in Responsible Tourism


Last 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.”


‘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

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.

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

All-inclusives continue to grow in popularity in the UK.

Peter Long, CEO of Tui, owners of Thomson and First Choice, spoke out at the Family Holidays Association about the importance of families being able to take a family holiday together. Speaking about Britain he said back in October there are “2 million children for whom even a day trip is unaffordable. Given that we are the world’s 7th largest economy; this is an appalling indictment on our society.”

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that since 2008 there has been an “unprecedented erosion of household living standards” thanks to rapid inflation and flat-lining wages. They argue that the freeze in child benefit, the decision to uprate tax credits by only 1% and the increase in the cost of essentials faster than inflation mean that a working couple with two children will be £230 worse off a year; a working lone parent has £223 less disposable income. Many families are unable to afford a holiday and many more are having to be very careful about how much they spend.

In an interview on BBC Breakfast Peter Long said that Tui was very mindful of the growing cost of living. This is affecting demand for holidays, as Peter Long said “What is particularly a strong demand is the all-inclusive holidays, where you have complete peace of mind because everything is included, and that enables our customers to budget more easily and effectively.”  First Choice, part of Tui, has been established as the ‘home of all inclusive’ in the UK. Package holidays are growing in popularity. Tui’s package holiday sales rose 5% in the UK, helped by the popularity of all-inclusive breaks. TTG Digital reported that all-inclusive sales across all of Tui’s UK and Ireland brands had grown by 14% as economic uncertainty continues to drive the market. Kathryn Ward, Tui UK and Ireland director of retail, told TTG at their Retail Conference that some consumers considered all-inclusive packages to be the best way to control their holiday budget and reported that 55% of all bookings via the vertically integrated operator were for all-inclusive packages.

The growth in all-inclusives, particularly popular with families, looks set to continue in the UK as consumer seek to protect themselves against uncertainties in the cost of their annual family holiday and the risks associated with ash clouds and political instability. As some analysts are arguing all-inclusives offer better margins.

Given the continuing squeeze on the living standards of many in the UK, and particularly families, it would be surprising if all inclusives do not continue to grow. This is not necessarily a bad thing for destinations – we should be judging the value of tourism by the extent of spending on local salaries and wages and goods and services.  The key question is what does tourism yield for the local economy? The value of an all-inclusive bed night to the local economy may be greater than a traditional hotel, depending on where the alcohol and food is produced, and who is employed to provide activities and entertainment. We need to evaluate different tourism enterprises by their impacts rather than their form.  

Los Premios Xavier 2013 galardonan a Jesuïtes Sarrià, al ICRT y a Hilton Worldwide

It was an honour to receive a Xavier Award from Turismo Sant Ignaci, Universitat Ramon Lull on behalf of the International Centres for Responsible Tourism

El International Centre for Responsible Tourism (ICRT) es una comunidad de profesionales del sector privado, público y de organizaciones no gubernamentales que tiene como principal objetivo que el turismo genere mejores lugares para vivir que, a la vez, sean mejores lugares para visitar. Su director, Harold Goodwin, ha insistido, en el momento de agradecer el galardón, en la importancia de asumir responsabilidades con el turismo y con las personas porque “la cuestión es si el turismo debe ser usado por las comunidades y las lugares, o bien debe ser el turismo el que utilice esas comunidades y lugares en su beneficio”.
El ICRT recibe el Premi Xavier del Turisme 2013 por liderar la preocupación por practicar un turismo responsable y por “haber hecho partícipe a TSI-Turismo Sant Ignasi, y a la ciudad de Barcelona, en la organización de la 7ª Conferencia Internacional sobre Turismo Responsable que se celebró el pasado mes de octubre”.

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la foto

How should we judge the performance of Tourism Ministers?

We have had many years of judging the performance of Ministers of Tourism by the increase in international arrivals while they hold office, although many of them hold the post only briefly. As a measure it has the advantage of being a simple indicator and of being cheap to collect, often immigration does it on behalf of tourism and from a national government perspective foreign exchange earnings may be of primary importance. Rarely do we see headline coverage of the net contribution of tourism to foreign exchange earnings and often there seems to be little or no awareness of the foreign exchange costs involved in importing capital equipment and supplies for the tourism industry.

The industry is unrelenting in its demand for government to increase arrivals, more and more hotels are built in the honeypots fuelling more demands from the industry for promotion of the existing destinations – tourism becomes more and more concentrated in “successful” destinations at the expense of other places with considerable, but untapped, potential.

Similarly the industry demands better access to Everest Base Camp or Machu Picchu, apparently oblivious of the fact that improved access means improved egress; travellers and tourists are able to arrive and leave more quickly having seen the honeypot site. Improved access may simply reduce the number of days tourists spent in the country and the tourism yield.

Deloitte with Oxford Economics have just reported on Tourism: jobs and growth for VisitBritain. Their figures are far less optimistic than many of those bandied around in the sector. This research suggests that in the UK additional  marginal revenue of £54,000 is required to create one additional full-time job and that for every 1% increase in total tourism expenditure , full time equivalent employment will increase by 0.89%.  Link

The VisitBritain report also demonstrates how much of the international tourism spend in the UK is spent in London: 53%.  Northern Ireland gets 1%, Wales gets 3%, Scotland gets 8%, the rest of England gets 35% .

New Zealand has been working for 10 years to attract tourists who will spend most in the local economy on goods and services produced in New Zealand. The Prime Minister gets it – he is also the Tourism Minister. Prime Minister John Key said last week that New Zealand needs tourists who spend more money, rather than just more people through the airport gates.  A new report on the industry shows that despite more visitors arriving in New Zealand, they’re staying for fewer days and spending less money. That’s partly because a large proportion of the growth in visitor numbers had been an increase in low-spending Australians.  Visitors from all countries had been spending less and staying fewer days since the global financial crisis in 2009. Link

New Zealand has a national strategy designed to spread the benefits of tourism throughout the country. There is a great graphic available on line that demonstrates the distribution of tourism spending both spatially and temporally. It is worth a look.  

Perhaps at last a few countries are becoming more sophisticated in thinking about what they want from tourism and how to value it.