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Kites but no hot air balloons

This morning found me sat around a campfire nestling in the
Sussex Downs on an unseasonably damp and grey day as the solstice approaches. I
was a guest of ResponsibleTravel.com who are celebrating their 10th
anniversary. The 20 staff who work at ResponsibleTravel.com comprise the
largest single group of people, anywhere in the world, who are working together
to realise Responsible Tourism.

When Justin and I founded ResponsibleTravel.com in 2001
there were very few companies which could put their holidays on the site. The
idea was to create a C21st  Fish Street. A Responsible Travel Street, a
place where people wanting to buy a Responsible Travel holiday or travel
experience could go to make their choice. To sell in Responsible Travel Street
you had to be selling Responsible Travel, as with fish there is a wide choice
of different varieties and quality varies, the buyer needs to make their choice(s)
but all the travel experiences sold in Responsible Travel Street meet a minimum
set of criteria, they take some responsibility for making travel and tourism
more sustainable. Some of course are more responsible than others.

I was asked to join the celebration to share in it, and to
talk a little about the past, and give my view about ResponsibleTravel.com
might grow. To mark the first ten years, Justin had organised an away day in
the Downs, not far from Brighton, where Responsible Travel Street is. The
campsite, comprising a yurt and some smaller tents, feels remote and offers an
experience of the Downs, one which refreshes the soul. You can see photos of
the site, and find out more about it, at Safari Britain.  It is a good idea and a good experience, as I write this in the Premier Inn at
Manchester Airport, some of them, the hardier ones, will be sat beside the camp
fire enjoying the remoteness, their own company, and with luck wondering at the
stars, looking forward to a night under canvas.

Andy Law spoke about the importance of maintaining energy
within an organisation ? of keeping focused on what you are doing and why,
about keeping going. There is a danger of the energy dissipating as more people
come and join. The passion has to be kept and renewed. As he pointed out ?the
pioneers are the ones who have been shot in the back.? To be a pioneer you need
to take risks, maintain and expend energy and a little silliness can help,
although I am not so sure about the last bit. In some ways ResponsibleTravel.com
was and is a business founded on academic theory, its success demonstrates the power
of the thinking. ResponsibleTravel.com is the threat of the good example

The challenges for ResponsibleTravel.com are those of the
Movement as a whole. Responsible Tourism has caught on ? people are using it.
If you put ?ResponsibleTravel? into Google it gets 332,000 hits, ?Responsible
Travel? gets 1,900,000. ?Responsible Tourism? gets 1,740,000. The most common
usage is probably Responsible and Sustainable Tourism. That’s a dead give a way.

Responsible Tourism is not just a label. It is only
Responsible Tourism if you can articulate clearly what you are taking
responsibility for. You need to be able to say clearly what you are taking
responsibility for, to say what you are responding to, and why. AND you need to
be able to demonstrate that you are making a difference.

Certificates and labels alone don?t do that ? they obscure.
They are part of the problem. When Justin and I set up ResponsibleTravel.com we
understood, as did Krippendorf, that Responsible Tourism could only work if the
product was superior ? it needed to offer a better, a more real, a more
authentic experience. AND it needed to communicate and evidence its
responsibility ? the traveller and holidaymaker needs to be able to experience
the difference.

 

So what of the priorities for the next ten years, I was
asked for my recommendations:

  1. ResponsibleTravel.com
    needs to work in a focused way to create rich clusters of tourism
    experiences in particular destinations ? accommodation, guides, transport,
    artists, crafters, restaurants, caf’s, bars, natural and cultural
    heritage sites. That’s the next phase of the development of Responsible
    Tourism ? offering a rich Sm?rg’sbord of opportunities
    so that consumers can experience and taste the difference.

  2. Responsible Tourism has
    been infectious, it is rampant. But now too many people and businesses are
    using the words and not taking responsibility, not acting, not making a difference.
    The tipping point came in 2006/7. The priority now is, to use Krippendorf’s
    phrase, to educate rebellious locals and rebellious tourists to hold the imposters
    to account. We need a campaign to raise awareness amongst consumers and to
    encourage them to complain. There is too much band waggon jumping, www.irresponsibletourism.info
    is the place to blow the whistle, complain to the management, write on
    Trip Advisor. One opportunity for ResponsibleTravel.com is to encourage members
    to transparently report their performance and progress on particular issues
    which are important to them and the places and people they work with. See
    for example the work which Jenifer Bobbin is doing on Responsible Tourism Reporting
    www.rtreporting.org We need to
    see more explicitness and more transparency.

  3. Responsible Tourism needs to
    have texture and meaning, certificates do not produce that. There has to be
    a credible narrative. From the beginning ResponsibleTravel.com recognised
    the importance of marketing Responsible Tourism businesses; it is not
    tourism until it is sold. Authenticity and the idea of a real holiday, a real
    experience of the people and the place are at the core of what makes Responsible
    Tourism work. ResponsibleTravel.com has helped a lot of small businesses
    to thrive. More can be done and more could be done to talk about this on
    the site.

  4. It is clear that Responsible
    Tourism is understood differently in different cultures and by different groups
    within a consuming culture ?we need to see this consumer approach adopted
    in more countries.

  5. There are a host of issues
    to be addressed ? access for all, philanthropy, skiing, diving and
    wildlife viewing, above all consumers need to be educated and empowered to
    demand better holidays and to complain when they are not delivered.

I wish ResponsibleTravel.com a
Happy Birthday and, with a certain paternal interest, urge it to redouble its efforts
to promote Responsible Tourism holidays and experiences and to grow the market
to the benefit of thousands of smaller businesses and those making a difference.
ResponsibleTravel.com has taken responsibility but it can, and will, do more in
the next ten years.

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