As part of building a strong tourism industry for the future, we as consumers need to understand the role that we need to play in acting and behaving responsibly. To that end, let’s take a closer look at responsible tourism and the associated myths and misconceptions.
Myth 1: ‘Responsible Tourism’ Has No Clear Definition
The foundation of responsible tourism is an easy concept — ensure the rights and needs of all those who support your holiday are respected. And while there are variations of that definition, the core component is irrefutable. Companies and travellers who can understand the impact of their trips lead the way in responsible tourism.
Myth 2: Responsible Tourism is Just About the Environment
Of course, looking after the planet is important — if we don’t care for places there will be nowhere left to visit. But that is just one facet of the travel experience. It’s vital to responsible tourism that we ensure the people who live and work in a tourism destination are benefiting as well. Travel & Tourism has a massive direct and indirect effect on the people living in the places we visit, providing income, education, and infrastructure for many. Every piece of the travel experience, from transportation to the hotels to the tourist spots, should consider the welfare and wellbeing of the people impacted by your trip.
Myth 3: It’s Expensive to Travel Responsibly
As with any tourism product, there are a variety of price points. Being responsible does not mean you have to pay a premium. Sites like Responsible Travel and The Travel Foundation allow travellers to better understand the impact of their holidays and travels, as well as help them to find a range of travel and tour options. Traveling responsibly also guarantees your trip will be better for the places you visit. It’s this positive exchange that forms the core of respectful, responsible trips.
Myth 4: It’s Just a Niche Market
Some within the industry still consider responsible and sustainable tourism a niche market — a market separate from mainstream tourism operations. We can’t allow the industry to be so simply demarcated. Responsible tourism transcends needless delineations and should be an underlying current embedded in all activities and business decisions within Travel & Tourism. Thankfully, many large companies have cottoned on to this fact. For example, Marriott, Accor Hotels, Kuoni, Air New Zealand, Rei Adventures have all implemented corporate-level sustainability programmes that shape each company’s business decisions.
Myth 5: Responsible Tourism Only Exists in Rural, Developing Destinations
Although the impact of responsible tourism is often more commonly associated with tourism in developing destinations, even developed destinations are impacted by Travel & Tourism. In rural, less economically wealthy areas, tourism may be the only/main economic activity; in these cases responsible tourism choices have a significant and visible effect. Responsible travellers can research and understand the unique issues facing their destination and take steps to respectfully mitigate that negative impact. In practice, companies have developed unique solutions to individual issues facing each city or country. Examples of best practice include Costa Navarino in Greece, the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland, Irish Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, the city of Ljubljana, and Alpine Pearls in the Alps.
Myth 6: Mass Tourism is Irresponsible
Admittedly, the mass tourism segment has a reputation for leaving little positive impact. However, if you dig a bit deeper there are responsible ways to travel. Charter flights with high load factors are much more efficient and responsible than empty seats in a scheduled carrier. Additionally, bus transport to and within a destination is better than using a taxi. And where the mass tourism operators are embracing sustainability, the impacts can be huge. Have a look at TUI Group’s Sustainable Holidays’ Plan for a deeper understanding of how large-scale responsible T&T projects impact the places we visit.
Myth 7: Responsible Travel Means Roughing It
Although many responsible travel projects do include budget travel, responsible tourism doesn’t have to mean giving up creature comforts. There is no exclusivity: Every level and style of travel can be done in a responsible manner. Many luxury operators lead the way in developing responsible tourism programmes baked right into their brand. Companies like Asilia Africa, Six Senses, and Banyan Tree have developed innovative initiatives in conservation, staff enrichment training, and supply-chain sustainability. And companies such as TUI, that have greater mass appeal, embed responsibility and sustainability throughout their operations.
Myth 8: It’s Difficult to Determine Which Companies are Responsible
In the past, it was often difficult to research before a trip to determine a company’s responsibility. That is no longer the case — there are a number of tools for consumers to compare and contrast a company’s responsibility metrics and performance. Consumers can find companies that give back to their communities, treat their staff well, monitor their supply chains, and are best at reducing waste, water and energy. For researching, travellers can use sites like Travelife, TripAdvisor’s Green Leaders Programme, and Book Different, among others. There are also a number of global award schemes highlighting the companies leading the responsible tourism industry; these include the World Responsible Tourism Awards and WTTC’s own Tourism for Tomorrow Awards.
Responsible tourism is not an isolated, niche market — travellers, companies, and governments all have to play a part to create a sustainable tourism industry for our collective futures. It’s the cumulative effort and emphasis that will affect positive change. At the core, responsible tourism is about showing respect: respect for the environment (don’t litter, don’t overuse resources), respect for culture (learn about it, talk to locals, don’t wear behave inappropriately), and respect for people (show interest, be polite to staff, tip as appropriate). Maximising Travel & Tourism’s potential as a Force for Good requires leadership, commitment, and action from all.
Find out more about WTTC’s Tourism for Tomorrow initiatives and Awards.