There is a Difference between Sustainable and Responsible Tourism

The decision by World Travel Market to launched World Responsible Tourism Day in 2007, with the support of the UN World Tourism Organization, marked a major change of gear.  The focus on Responsible Tourism broadened the agenda to include all three pillars of sustainability economic, social and environmental and the emphasis on responsibility challenged businesses to take action to achieve sustainability.

Harold Goodwin explains the difference between Responsible Tourism and Sustainable Tourism video

This is reflected in the 2012 programme of panels and debates which includes sessions on tourism and child protection, wildlife and activity tourism, volunteering and carbon emissions from flying. Out ambition is to educate, inspire and to challenge the industry to do more to achieve sustainability. We are asking some sharp questions this year: Is the industry inclusive enough? Is the industry doing enough to cater for people with disabilities? Are tourists paying enough for entrance to the world’s cultural heritage? Important questions, but it isn’t only about asking the challenging questions, it is also about inspiring people in the industry to take more responsibility for making tourism sustainable.

Responsible Tourism is about making “better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit”: in that order. It is about using tourism rather than being used by it. It is about identifying the locally significant issues and acting to deal with them. In Cape Town the city council has identified seven local priorities: reductions in water and energy consumption and waste; increased local procurement and enterprise development; social development and skills development. The city council and tourism businesses in Cape Town are taking responsibility, managing tourism to achieve these sustainability objectives and progress is being measured against clear agreed criteria. In this way progress towards sustainability can be driven across the whole tourism sector in Cape Town and delivery measured and reported.

Over the last couple of years the phrase “Sustainable and Responsible Tourism” has gained currency. But they are not the same thing, there is a broad agenda of sustainability issues, long lists are constructed by groups like the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and most recently the European Union with its draft “European Charter for Sustainable and Responsible Tourism”. Responsible Tourism about taking action, it  is about identifying the economic, social and environmental issues which matter locally and tackling them, bringing the stakeholders together to exercise responsibility.

We need to do much more if the challenge of sustainability is to be met; over the twenty years since Rio not enough has been done. There has been too much talk of sustainability and too little taking of responsibility. All forms of tourism can be more or less responsible.

Responsibility is free you can take as much of it you can handle. But others can undermine the efforts of a few, and there is a role for government and regulation to control the free riders. It cannot be right that the efforts of those businesses which take responsibility and try to operate sustainably should be undermined by those who carry on over exploiting our environments and the public realm.

It is time move on from talking about sustainability and making lists, that was the agenda 20 or 30 years ago – now it is time to take responsibility, act and make a difference.


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