Social Responsibility & Tourism

Since the first major UN conference addressed the challenge of what we now know as sustainable development in 1972, we have understood that it is essential to balance environment and development.  What began as Environment Day at World Travel Market has evolved to address the much broader agenda of Responsible Tourism. This year the Responsible Tourism programme at WTM includes sessions on employment in the travel and tourism industry, local economic development, child protection, access for people with disabilities and volunteering, as well as sessions on two of the big environmental issues: carbon and water.

Our panellists are predominantly leaders from the sector, including Martin Brackenbury, Mark Tanzer,  Ufi Ibrahim, Claire Steiner,  Justin Francis,  Andy Cooper, Nikki White and Jonathon Counsell. We also have people from beyond the sector, its NGOs and academics, including Kevin Curran Chair of the Unite Central London Hotel Workers Branch, Bharti Patel, Chief Executive Officer of ECPAT UK and Amanda Read & Karen Tatom of the UK Border Force, Jonathan Foyle, Chief Executive of World Monuments Fund, Britain and Oliver Maurice, Director International National Trusts Organisation.  The Responsible Tourism agenda is broad, people beyond tourism contribute too.

Social inclusion matters.  In October in Barcelona Jason Freezer, Head of Destination Management at VisitEngland, spoke about destination management at the 7th Internation Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations in Barcelona in October – there was considerable interest in VisitEngland’s 2010 “Enjoy Every Minute” campaign, not least for its social inclusivity. Their promotional campaign encouraged everyone, international and domestic tourists, day trippers, local residents and workers to make the most of their spare time – to enjoy what the local area had to offer. The tourism experience  should not just be for tourists.

Peter Long, CEO of TUI Travel PLC, has recently taken on the Presidency of the Family Holidays Association – he speaks forcefully about the importance of family life and he recounted his astonishment when he visited Burbage Primary School in Hackney and discovered that many children had not seen the Thames, less than a mile away from their homes. There are 2 million children whose parents cannot afford even a day trip. He went on to say “there are 2.2 million families with dependent children in this country who still cannot afford a holiday…. That is unacceptable for a country that has the 7th largest economy in the world.”  As he said “this is an appalling indictment on our society.” The travel and tourism industry has an inherent social purpose – we need to find ways to ensure that many more can have travel and tourism experiences. Social purpose and social inclusion are at the heart of the Responsible Tourism  Movement.

This year’s World Responsible Tourism Awards will be announced at WTM on Wednesday morning.  They too recognise the social dimension with awards for work on child protection, campaigning, local economy and child protection as well as wildlife, water conservation and destinations. This year’s winners reflect the range of businesses large and small, taking responsibility and making tourism better.

But there is so much more to do. As Denis Wormwell, Chief Executive of Shearings Holidays, said a couple of years ago at one of our conferences, responsibility is free, you can take as much of it as you can handle. 

I hope that this year’s programme at WTM will inspire you to take some more.

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