Key moments from World Responsible Tourism Day 2018

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The third day of World Travel Market 2018 opened on a note of optimism. “WTM is such a celebration and testimony to our worldwide tourism industry vibrancy and multiculturalism,” declared Derek Hanekom, Minister of Tourism, South Africa, in his keynote address for World Responsible Tourism Day 2018. It’s up to all of us to spread the responsible tourism message loudly clearly and far and wide.”

However, the deeper message that Hanekom then shared was not one of celebration, but of urgency. He said there were two topics that the industry most has to address – climate change and overtourism. “Without massively changed behaviour the world stands to destroy itself,” he said. “Long before then the growth in tourism stand to come to an end. We are perilously close to the point where carbon emissions will irreversibly change the symbiotic life systems that sustain life. If we don’t do this we will remain on the tragic path of being the architects of our own destruction.”

He called on the industry to become change agents – providing the example through our actions that sends the right message to our guests. “If tourists see responsible practices away from home they are much more likely to adopt them when they get back,” he commented.

On the subject of overtourism, he was equally clear. “The key issue is host communities feeling excluded and crowded out by tourists,” he said. “It is becoming a major problem”, he added, explaining that Responsible Tourism requires that communities are consulted, benefit from tourism, and are integrated into tourism development in their neighbourhoods.

“Tourists don’t want to be viewed as unwelcome visitors or destroyed of lifestyles, habitat and the environment. They want to feel embraced and welcomed and feel that they are making a positive difference to the places they visit.”

He then focussed on his own country’s experience, in particular the Cape Town water crisis that has received global attention recently. He saw the country’s response as providing a template to prove that it is possible to radically and rapidly transition to more sustainable ways of operating.  Having implemented a host of water saving measures, he explained, the city has reduced consumption by more than 50% in just three years. “From adversity the city has become a global leader in best water practice,” said Hanekom.

He concluded with a call to the industry to be a true leader in developing a sustainable future. “Let us be the industry that leads the world towards sustainable practices,” he said. “If we do this we will ensure there is a world, and one with people living in harmony with nature and each other, and enjoying fulfilling, sustainable tourism experiences.”

Responsible Tourism – how much progress have we made?

For the flagship World Responsible Tourism Day debate, three leading women from the industry discussed the topic ‘Responsible Tourism – how much progress have we made?’

“We’ve moved beyond the stage of just acting from morality,” said Dr Susanne Becken, Professor of Sustainable Tourism, Griffith Institute for Tourism. “We don’t have much time left. In the last year or so, issues such as overtourism and the recent Cape Town water crisis have made it clear that we are reaching the limits to what we can consume.”

Both industry representatives agreed that tourist demand for responsible tourism is growing rapidly.  Inge Huijbrechts,Global Senior Vice President Responsible Business and Safety & Security, Radisson Hotel Group, said: “It’s an absolute necessity for us to align as a company with the Paris goals on climate. Also our consumers are demanding it. We want to do the right thing.” Helen Caron, Purchasing Director, Hotels & Resorts, Cruises, Destination Experiences, TUI Group, agreed, commenting: “This is what our customers are telling us they want.”

“The elephant in the room is that many people fly on their holidays,” suggested moderator Tanya Beckett. “Many airlines still see it as a compliance thing,” commented Dr Susanne Becken. “It’s not embedded in their thinking that they should be truly part of the solution. And it means customers who fly to a hotel that is working on sustainability feel a disconnect. The next step is for airlines to move beyond compliance into truly making a difference.”

Huijbrechts observed that larger companies like theirs with resources and global reach have a responsibility to build the necessary partnerships to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and then to also connect with other players in the industry. “We have a responsibility as a company and also collectively,” she said. Agreeing with the need for collaboration, Becken commented: “We need these ideas to multiply. Tourism is such a successful industry, growing so fast. We need to share the ideas to achieve what is necessary.”

Employment and Decent Work

“The debates around sustainable and responsible tourism haven’t focussed enough on issues around employment,” said Andreas Walmsley, Associate Professor, University of Plymouth. “The employee as the immediate stakeholder needs to have more of a voice.”

Several of the panellists represented companies who are positive exceptions on this issue, and are recognised for their approach to employment. “It is desperately sad that there is so much in work poverty,” commented Patrick Langmaid, owner of Mother Ivey’s Bay Holiday Park in Cornwall, which is the only accredited Living Wage campsite in the UK, and won a silver award in this year’s World Responsible Tourism Awards. “We took the view that we need to treat our staff as we would wish to be treated ourselves,” he said. Observing that where he works in Cornwall there is a lot of poverty as well as considerable volumes of tourism, he commented: “as far as hospitality is concerned it shouldn’t be like this, because we are a premium brand. People like Cornwall. They like to come here.”

He went on to explain that while it cost around £40,000 a year for his company to pay higher wages, the positive business impacts were profound. “We get a stable workforce, it is easier to recruit, we get the best people, and we retain them,” he said. “In the past they would leave to get a few pence more.”

He explained how paying higher wages feeds through into increased productivity, which leads to an enhanced guest experience, who are then repeat booking, and recommending his business to their friends, all of which feeds through to remarkably high occupancy rates at Mother Ivey’s Bay Holiday Park of 90%. “It’s all down to my team,” said Langmaid. “The business case it that we treat our wages as an investment rather than a cost, and we are making more money as a result.”

Liutauras Vaitkevicius, General Manager, Good Hotel London, explained that the London-based hotel describes itself as a ‘for profit not for profit”, as it reinvests all its profits in the NGO it also runs and in other good causes. It works with the local council – Newham – to train 20 young and long term unemployed people every quarter, providing them with the skills and confidence to work in the hospitality industry and ensure them a sustainable future.

Intrepid won a Responsible Tourism gold award for its work in Colombo Sri Lanka, where the lowest-paid staff member is paid LKR 27,000 per month, in a country where the national minimum wage is LKR 10,000 per month. The company also provides health insurance, paternity and additional maternity leave, five days of educational leave per year; and the opportunity to travel on an educational Intrepid Group trip free of charge anywhere in the world every year.

James Thornton, CEO, Intrepid Group, said his company’s shareholders are getting a better return, thanks to his company investing in such schemes.  “We have better staff, providing a better experience,” he said. “I fundamentally believe that for purpose initiatives are not separate to profit initiatives. “

Having commended the other panellists for their efforts, Kevin Curran, Vice Chair, Unite London Hotel Workers Branch, observed that unfortunately they were exceptions to the general approach to employment adopted across the industry, which is more often defined by causal and seasonal work patterns, outsourced work, zero hours contracts and poor prospects for development. “If we want an industry that is successful, we need to train and develop the workforce,” he said.The industry needs to provide this training on site and during office hours, he added, as most staff have to endure long journeys to and from home each day, combined with physically exhausting work. “The workforce is already there, but we need to make it worth them staying in our industry.”

Indigenous Tourism

About 12m indigenous people have been displaced from their land to make way of tourism development, explained Mark Watson, former executive director of Tourism Concern. “They aren’t consulted on the development, or benefit from it in any way, and often are treated as attractions,” At its worst, he explained, companies run ‘human safaris’, where the communities are nothing more than an object to be gazed at and photographed.

He said the ignorance we have of indigenous people’s lives means tourists are often disappointed to see that the people they visit have mobile phones and satellite TV, wishing to see them living as an unchanging artifact of an ancient way of life. “How do we allow them to maintain what they wish to maintain of their culture,” he asked, “while supporting their wish and right to develop?”

There are still 573 registered tribes across North America, explained Camille Ferguson, Executive Director, American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association. She said her organisation’s mission was to develop an indigenous tourism that sustains and develops their many diverse traditions and values. “It is really important that all tribes take control of tourism,” she explained, “and we don’t let tourism take control of us.” She said tourism needs to be a way for indigenous people “not to preserve their culture, but to perpetuate it.”

She told various stories of how American Indians have been excluded from many well known stories, ranging from Route 66 to the American Civil War and Grand Canyon. She gave the example of their work training indigenous people to be guides at the Grand Canyon, sharing that there are 11 tribes still living within the area of the Grand Canyon. “We have brought a sense of place back into that view,” she said

The concluding presentation of this year’s WTM Responsible Tourism programme was given by Cameron Taylor, Tourism and Heritage Consultant and Author, TTJ Tourism, who works with the Nunavut people of Northern Canada. He reflected on how differently the indigenous concept of sustainability is to that presented in most of the discussions taking place at WTM.

Most discussions perceive acting sustainability as being about our efforts to sustain something else, conceiving of humans as somehow separate from the environment that we damage and then need to save. That’s not how indigenous people such as the Inuit see it, he said.

“The environment isn’t external, it is internal.” commented Taylor. “Landscape, land and people are all one and the same thing.”

eTN is a media partner for WTM.