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The Responsible Tourism Movement in a low carbon world

Justin Francis, one of our alumni with whom I co-founded ResponsibleTravel.com in 2001 has been reflecting in his blog on the state of the Responsible Tourism Movement. In the UK the Movement grew out of the campaign run by VSO in the mid-nineties to raise awareness amongst UK consumers about the impacts of their holidays on other peoples? places. That concern struck a chord; and market research demonstrated that consumers cared more about the responsible credentials of the company than whether they had travelled with them before.

First the Association of Independent Tour Operators and then the Federation of Tour Operators declared their support for Responsible Tourism. ResponsibleTravel.com has grown rapidly as an on-line retailer ? the C21st equivalent of Fish Street, by providing a shared market place for a wide variety of responsible tourism operators and accommodation providers it helped grow the market and contributed to raising awareness of the issues and the pleasure which can be had from taking a better kind of holiday. The RT Movement has a vanguard and laggards and a few charlatans – as Justin would say ?you can taste the difference?, we need to encourage debate and to use www.irresponsibletourism.org It is not enough to celebrate the good ? the bad needs to be identified and criticised, false claims need to be exposed. The claims of operators and accommodation providers about their RT practises are part of the contract ? misselling can and must be challenged.

The Responsible Tourism Awards have contributed to growing awareness about a different and better way of travelling and of course the success of Responsible Tourism reflects the growth of a broader consumer movement in the UK and in other originating markets.

There has been a parallel development of Responsible Tourism in Destinations ? South Africa, The Gambia, Kerala, Brighton and Hove  – demonstrating the diversity of the issues which need to be addressed in different places reflecting the world’s natural and cultural diversity. The Cape Town and Kerala International Conferences on Responsible Tourism in Destinations provided an opportunity to share experience in open and transparent ways ? the declarations were agreed by he conferences in plenary session and are owned by them.  No one size fits all set of Global Sustainability Tourism Criteria can adequately deal with the world’s diversity. The current green labels and eco-certificates tell us nothing about what has been achieved in reducing negative impacts or increasing positive ones ? for all the money that has been spent we do not know what has been achieved.

The Responsible Tourism Movement encompasses operators, accommodation providers and destinations ? the salient issues vary from place to place but there is broad agreement on the scope of an agenda best defined in the Cape Town Declaration.
Having the following characteristics, Responsible Tourism:

1. minimises negative economic, environmental, and social impacts;
2. generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry;
3. involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances;
4. makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world's diversity;
5. provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;
6. provides access for physically challenged people; and
7. is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence

The FlySmart campaign is calling for a similar transparent approach to aviation’s carbon pollution – it is NOT about purchasing permits to pollute (offsets), it is about ensuring that the incentives are in a straight line to ensure reduction in emissions per passenger mile flown and reported in a way that informs consumer decisions and with clear evidence of real reductions in pollution.  

Justin is right to point to the significance of the low carbon economy, the age of oil was never going to last for ever, the readjustment in the world’s economies will be painful – tourism cannot be isolated from those changes. But change brings new opportunities. Domestic tourism will grow; the slow movement and local distinctiveness create opportunities for new forms of tourism and new business opportunities ? consider this year’s ground breaking VisitEngland Enjoy Every Minute promotion targeted locals and international and domestic tourists.

Over the next few years outbound operators and accommodation providers will continue to ratchet-up responsibility, carbon efficiency will become rapidly more important and consumers will expect to see transparent reporting on carbon efficiency per bed night or per mile flown. The FlySmart campaign will make the case for responsible flying and for the revenues generated to be used to fund adaptation for communities adversely affected by climate change ? not the APD tax which fuels further consumption by government, much of it carbon intensive.

The Responsible Tourism Movement needs to demand more of destination managers: local government, national park managers and the land and sea managers. It is no longer acceptable that destination management is reduced to marketing or to the certification of tourism businesses. The management of public space where tourists and locals interact is going to be of increasing importance ? for social, economic and environmental reasons.  Businesses and destinations are going to be challenged to report in a much more transparent way what their impacts are, how they are being managed and what the outcomes are.  Is crowding being reduced? Is the carbon footprint of tourism in Cambridge or Snowdonia being reduced? What of water consumption and waste? And critically what is the net economic benefit for local people?

The International Centre for Responsible Tourism, its friends, associates, partners and alumni will remain at the sharp end pushing for change and supporting those who want to use tourism to make better places for people to live in and for people to visit. The RT Movement needs rebellious tourists, tourism industry professionals and locals. The issues are local, the reporting needs to be transparent and robust, and we need to see real change. The pace of change has to accelerate and we need to challenge ourselves to achieve more ? there is much to be done.

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