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Who is greenwashing?

In Sunday’s Observer  Tom
Robinson asked ?Are you being greenwashed??

You can read the article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2008/jul/06/green.ethicalholidays

The idea of ResponsibleTravel.com grew out of the ICRT when Justin
was a student on the Masters at Greenwich
and I co-founded ResponsibleTravel.com with him in 2001, although I sold my
shares some years ago.

When we created it very few people were talking about Responsible
Travel and we were told by many that the idea would never catch on. The website
was established as an online travel agency, a place where Responsible Tourism
operators could advertise their programmes and where larger tour operators could
advertise those trips. All the products on the site had to meet a minimum set
of criteria.

We established it as a business because our ambition was to change
the way the industry did business. Far from appropriating ?responsible travel? Responsible
Travel.com has played an important part in establishing the idea in the UK market
place. Some progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go.

I agree with Ron Mader that what is needed now is ?more
transparent communication and more engaging conversation? – it is only through
active engagement by travellers and holidaymakers that tour operators, hoteliers
and airlines can be held to account. As Robinson illustrates in his article the
Advertising Standards Agency is a useful tool and it should be remembered that
all the statements made by tour operators about the products they are selling
are part of their contract with their clients.

Explore is criticised in the Observer article for a trip to Brazil which
included staying at a cayman farm. Jamie Bennett quoted in the article has
posted a fuller critique on www.irresponsibletourism.info
more holiday makers should be posting on sites like this, taking responsibility
for raising the issues they care about.

 Krippendorf whose seminal book The Holidaymakers originated Responsible
Tourism argued that what we need is ?rebellious tourists and rebellious locals?.
The issues are complex and contested they cannot be reduced to labels – transparency
and debate are essential to the Responsible Tourism movement. What constitutes responsible
and irresponsible behaviour is contested – we live in a diverse world where debate
and engagement is essential – Responsible Tourism cannot be reduced to a label,
it is an approach to travel and to business. Only questioning and debate can
help us to move forward.

 Explore has achieved three star status in the AITO classification

?The three star award is the highest level of RT recognition
offered by AITO. It means the company has successfully implemented and
continually improves an RT policy. To gain three RT Stars, the company must
also undertake a specific project which contributes to the economy, culture or
environment of a destination.?  

The cayman farm did not preclude Explore getting its
accreditation from AITO.

 NGO’s and others have interests in this field too. As Ron
Mader argues in his response to the Observer article ?NGOs would make a greater
impact not by stating what is and is not 'certified' or 'eco' but creating
being more transparent themselves.? For example Explore is also member of Tourism
Concern’s Ethical Tour Operators? Group. http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/index.php?page=ethical-tour-operators-group

 Robinson is right when he says that

?In reality, there is a sliding scale of green, from hotels
that do little more than ask you to reuse towels, to those that provide
renewable energy for heating and electricity, recycle religiously, grow their
own food and offer discounts if you arrive by public transport.?

 Tom Robinson is to be applauded for getting a critical piece
into the mainstream travel press but he has barely scratched the surface – will
others follow? Will the travel editors allow the journalists to ask the questions
that need to be asked about the industry? Where is the critical consumer
journalism on travel and tourism to be found?

It is right to hold to account all tour operators for their
irresponsibility – not only those who are trying to change the way they do
their business, to be more responsible. Keep asking questions and raising the
issues.

In the absence of critical journalism responsible travellers
need to keep on asking the questions  and
complaining – use the web to do it.

www.irresponsibletourism.info

 

You can read Responsible Travel.com’s response along with a
few other comments at

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/travelog/2008/07/have_you_been_greenwashed.html

 

Justin Francis has responded on his blog see

http://www.responsibletravel.blogspot.com/

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