Responsible Tourism is not the same thing as sustainable tourism – when you see the two ideas used together, as though they are coterminous, you know immediately that Responsible Tourism is not understood, let alone being practised. Sustainability is a worthy aim, too vague to be an objective. It is also passive with no imperative for action – a vague, inoperative aspiration, often used to legitimise an investment or embellish a campaign. Green-washing is rife.
Responsible Tourism places the emphasis on identifying particular issues in particular places, our world is diverse, there is no one set of priorities. Identify the issues which matter locally, carbon pollution is the only global issue; determine what people in tourism can do about it; take action and report the reduction in negative, or increase in positive impacts. Responsible Tourism requires action and transparent reporting.
Water is not a global issue, although water is an issue in many places around the world, it is not an issue everywhere. As a consumer where water is an issue I want to be able to find the most water efficient accommodation in the destination – certification does not enable me to do that, because it hides the evidence. But worse than that, if I check into a gold rated green labelled property and find that the TV is turned on there to greet me, the room is icy (both pumping out carbon pollution) and the water flow in the shower is extravagant – there is no action I can take for redress. The hotel has made no claims, I can’t go for compensation from them, they have not mis-sold. The certification body has mis-sold but I have not made a contractual relationship with them, they have provided a high quality and secure fig leaf.
The are many excellent examples of people taking responsibility on travel and tourism, people who go the extra miles to deliver products which are more responsible than they were a year or two ago and far more sustainable than their competitors – we see them every year in the World Responsible Tourism Awards presented at World Travel Market (WTM).
Responsible Tourism is about actively taking responsibility; it is about what you do. You demonstrate what you do by transparently reporting your impacts – aspirations and ‘feel good’ language is no longer enough. This year we need to redouble our efforts, to take responsibility and challenge those who either make no contribution to making our world a better place to live in or damage it. We need to put more effort into identifying and calling out irresponsibility.
Harold Goodwin’s most recent book is Taking Responsibility for Tourism www.haroldgoodwin.info.