Ten Years of Progress in Responsible Tourism

Reports of the outcomes from Rio have expressed disappointment at the absence of commitments; certainly the results are less dramatic than Rio in 1992 or Johannesburg in 2002. On the other hand only a few issues are genuinely global – carbon emissions are the best example of a genuinely global challenge, one where pollution created in Europe causes negative impacts in Africa or Asia. As we bump up against the limits to growth we will experience commodity price rises and food shortages, this will affect us all but the economically poor will be hit hardest. But progress on sustainability results from the efforts of people in particular places, global thinking and local action.
In 2009 the world’s leading Earth-System scientists identified nine planetary boundaries, as a species we have to live within those boundaries, it is within these limits that there is a “safe operating space for humanity”.  As Manda Brookman of CoAST, Cornwall Action for Sustainable Tourism pointed out on Thursday at the London part of the 6th International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations we will not destroy the earth; we will make it less hospitable for our species, unless we take responsibility and act.
It is hard to be positive about the continued failure of action at the UN to deliver – but perhaps we should learn the lessons and accept that there are no short cuts to progress. There is little or nothing that the UN can do to make the world more sustainable other than encourage governments to take action. Whilst national governments can provide a legal framework and create incentives and penalties, real change is made by individuals acting locally.
The emphases in Rio this year on Sustainable Development Goals provides a framework for action: “action-oriented, concise and easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature and universally applicable to all countries while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities.” The Future We Want §247.
Last week I wrote about the conference we held in Sao Paulo alongside the Rio+20 conference in Brazil.  There were 183 delegates and speakers from 21 countries, on the Monday afternoon interviews form the conference went out live to 16 million people. We found real interest in Brazil in the ideas of Responsible Tourism and we shall continue to work with them to raise the issues and to develop strategies which address local priorities.
In South Africa House in London on Thursday major tour operators, like TUI, Thomas Cook and Kuoni met with destinations led by South Africa to discuss what progress has been made in making tourism more sustainable. Leading industry speakers included Mark Tanzer from ABTA, Jane Ashton and Garry Wilson from TUI, Andy Cooper from Thomas Cook, Fiona Jeffery, Chair of World Travel Market and Tokozile Xasa, the Deputy Minister and Bekithemba Langalibalele, Director for Responsible Tourism from South Africa along with speakers from The Gambia, Kerala, Lanzarote and the UK.
In ten years a good deal of progress has been made. Reflecting on those ten years many themes emerged. Prominent amongst them that it is individuals who make change and that we need to encourage and nurture the change makers, the people who make a difference. And there were many of them at the 6th International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations which took place in Sao Paulo, Brazil and South Africa House last week. It is noteworthy than in Sao Paulo and London there is a shared recognition that we need to focus on using tourism for sustainable development, that we need to hold to account those who claim to be responsible when they are not and that it is time for people to report, with data, on what they are achieving. We are seeing that in the work of the major UK outbound operators but the NGO’s and international agencies are less transparent.
We return to the issue of how much progress has been made at WTM in November.
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