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The First WTM World Responsible Tourism Day

The first WTM World Responsible Tourism Day was a great success. With many more people participating in events during the day, the seminars and awards attracted a much bigger audience than last year.

Fiona Jeffery welcomed people to the day and made the link with the 2002 Cape Town Declaration.  The WTM WRTD, supported by UNWTO, has adopted the principles formulated in Cape Town. Sindiswa Nhlumayo from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism in South Africa made the same point in her presentation in the Destinations seminar at the end of the day. As was clear from the awards and the presentations and discussions during the day we have made a great deal of progress over the last five years, but there is still a very long way to go.

In her opening address, Fiona pointed out that this was a milestone for “responsible tourism … a special moment, not only in the history of the World Travel Market, but also for the international travel and tourism industry.” She argued that “Responsible Tourism must be placed in the heart of the boardroom, working on a new, more caring, compassionate approach that both sets an example, and fuels profits in a sustainable way,” and made it clear that WTM World Responsible Tourism Day is here for the long haul – the next one is Wednesday November 12th 2008.

Polar explorer Pen Hadow opened the day by pointing out that the Poles are screaming at us. Only 40 years ago the ice floating on the Arctic Ocean was 4 metres thick, today it has been reduced to 3 metres. We are changing the climate of our planet.

WTM World Responsible Tourism Day addressed two of the major issues confronting us as a species: global warming and access to potable water.

The  session  on  Carbon Neutral: Saviour or Scam? began with Shaun Russell describing the negative  impacts of tourism on Antarctica, and raising concerns about the impacts of carbon emissions from the aircraft and the boats that people take to get there. Stefan Gossling looked at carbon offsetting and made the point that we need to be very careful when buying carbon offsets. Very few of them  adequately offset our carbon emissions; certainly we should not be claiming that they make us carbon neutral.

We need to reduce the amount we fly, fly more efficiently and then consider carbon compensating to assuage our guilt. Take a look at the CheatNeutral film which very entertainingly makes the point. Whether as an individual or as a tour operator you need to buy offsets with your eyes wide open, caveat emptor.  There is some useful advice available from the Carbon Consultancy . Only a few schemes make a real difference to your carbon footprint. Hugo Kimber then presented some ways in which we can reduce our impact by flying more efficiently – as individuals we can make better choices if we are better informed and we need to press the airlines to give us the information to enable us to do that. Tour Operators can press too for the same information and push for more carbon efficient flying. Read the press release and the brief based on research undertaken for IIED.

The other major issue is water. Water is an increasingly limited resource in more and more destinations around the world. The tourism industry and hoteliers in particular need to take responsibility for reducing their consumption in places where water is becoming more scarce, otherwise there will be increasing conflict between the industry, farmers and local communities unable to meet their water need.

The key issue facing the industry is where water is diverted to meet the requirements of tourists. The tourism industry can severely deplete local aquifers and drain water courses, leaving local people short of water. Large resort developments require significant amounts of water which are extracted from the local boreholes. In areas of water scarcity this reduces the amount of water available for local people. The tourism industry is able to pay more for water than locals. It is the poor who go short of water. As Nelson Mandela commented at the 2002 Earth Summit : �No water, no future.�

In a report for WTM the International Centre for Responsible Tourism looked at the impact of tourism on water supplies and the environment around the world and at what can be done. It was discussed at WTM in a session which posed the real question: is tourism drinking destinations dry?

The Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards were presented in a packed room with many watching on tv monitors around the exhibition. You can find details of all the winners and those who are highly commended on the awards website. Geographical Magazine has published a special glossy supplement, r:travel,  for the awards; get a copy with the December edition of Geographical Magazine or read a copy online.

The International Centre for Responsible Tourism published the first of a new annual ART: Achievements in Responsible Tourism which reports some of the advances made in 2007. The Pro-Poor Tourism Partnership published its Annual Register for 2007, it may be the last, if there is not progress to present by next year. Eugenio Yunis made the same point in his presentation: it is time to engage with the mainstream. We have to move beyond token gestures and make poverty a mainstream concern.


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