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Responsible tourism on the up

Report from World Trave Market: World Travel Market`s initiatives over responsible tourism have received a huge vote of endorsement…

Report from World Trave Market: World Travel Market`s initiatives over responsible tourism have received a huge vote of endorsement.

This industry backing came at Wednesday`s best-ever attended debate on the subject.

A show-of-hands vote produced 90 per cent agreement among 200-plus delegates that the effort is worthwhile and making progress.

Costas Christ, executive director of Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, in Maine, USA, said:

I have been involved in these issues for years. When we were talking about the concept behind responsible tourism 15 years ago it was in the context of an experiment.

We are way past that position now. I can personally tell you that there are hundreds of small companies around the world that are practising these principles successfully.

Whether 10 years from now we will look back and say to ourselves `Yes, responsible tourism was effective at that small level in working effectively with communities.`

The challenge we are facing today is whether we can take these principles into the larger tourism industry, into the mass market .

I differ from anybody here now who says we have sat at these debates and not much has been done.

There has been a tremendous amount. The fact that this discussion is taking place is indicative of that continuing important dialogue.

But for the larger companies we need to move outside of a sense of philanthropy. Why don`t you do something good for our planet and hone in on the important thing? That is: It is a successful business strategy to ensure that the natural environment, our cultural and natural heritage are properly taken care of …that is the bottom line.

World Travel Market has been at the forefront of this movement for 10 years , championing the cause of environmental awareness.

On this significant exhibition anniversary of 25 years the name has been changed to Responsible Tourism Day to underling the critical evolution of the green agenda within the industry.

There were dissenting voices, including one from a young South African. He said: I really don`t believe the mainstream industry wants community as involved as they state.

As somebody at this debate for the first time I really don`t share a lot of the optimism that is happening. It looks to me as if people are chasing only the bottom line, that the notion of responsible tourism keeps being pushed to the fringe. The really big global players are not wanting to come to the party.

Mandip Singh Soin, managing director, Ibex Expeditions, one of four panellists said: I can see where the frustration is coming from but we have to recognise that tourism is a huge force and if it has been making some negatives. Done the right way it can also make significant positives. It cannot happen just like that.

Mandip was joined on the panel, chaired by TV broadcaster John Stapleton, by Martin Lane, Editor Travel Weekly UK , Cornis van der Lugt, United Nations Environment Programme, and David Gillespie, managing director Exodus Travel.

Having sat in the audience for four years and now sitting here today, said Gillespie, I believe I have seen great strides. Is the glass half empty or half full?

We cannot be complacent. There is a long, long way to go. But we have moved forward a long way. When you see some of the international and tour operators` initiatives , The Travel Foundation in the UK, I feel that there is much happening. We have started.

The debate ranged over the wide spectrum of issues which complicate the issue – socio-economic, poverty reduction efforts; carbon tax, animal welfare, investment, corporate responsibilities, media campaigns and involvement, consumer driven pressure, mandatory regulations, global and local matters.

We have convening power, we can bring the right people around the table at a global level, said van der Lugt.

There are various efforts to look at responsible investment – where banks take a position on the type of project they support. UNEP is also working with the banks and insurance industries. You cannot pass the buck, you have to work with different institutions – one is national authority, one is local authority.

What we can do , for example, is to support capacity building. We have developed training materials, we are doing it through our tour operators` initiative.

Lane said: We don`t think the issues are worthy but dull. But we have found we have to drag people with us . You have to be gutsy. You have to be out there.

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