Responsible travel is not the responsibility of the tourist only. All role players in the tourism industry must contribute towards responsible tourism.
In my previous post, we discussed good global citizenship as a prerequisite for responsible travel. And the more I read about the two concepts, the more I realise that they link together seamlessly.
But to attain a working knowledge of responsible travel one has to sift through boatloads of information. Some of it seems conflicting, some of it is certainly confusing. So let’s try and nail it in one post, shall we?
Information overload, and then some
Just to be clear on terminology, for the purpose of this post the words ‘tourism’ and ‘travel’ will be used interchangeably.
Responsible travel is only one concept amongst a number of related and often overlapping ideas. Look at this list, for example: responsible tourism, ecotourism, sustainable tourism, green tourism, ethical tourism, humane tourism, community-based tourism.
Then we have an array of businesses, institutes, NGOs and government-related bodies, all punting their specific focus and interpretation of one or more of the concepts.
Some organisations are very inclusive in their approach. Others are focused on a single concept and quite opinionated about related ideas.
Starting with the big picture
So let’s start with the big picture and work our way towards the detail.
I like to propose the concept of sustainability as the starting point and understand it as the simultaneous pursuit of economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity.
The three elements of economy, environment and society will be found throughout all the more inclusive definitions.
“Realise that everything connects to everything else” – Leonardo Da Vinci
Now we can link sustainability with tourism.
Sustainable tourism is the concept of visiting a place as a tourist and trying to make only a positive impact on the economy, environment and society.
Here we have two very important issues to highlight:
- Tourism cannot be sustainable:
The largest part of tourism’s CO2 emissions comes from transportation and the largest part of that comes from air travel. But we cannot eliminate air travel, we can only manage it.
- Sustainability is not an outcome, it’s a process
Sustainability does not mean it is achieved. It is an endeavour, a management tool through which attitudes and systems are continuously adapted in the pursuit of sustainability.
Responsible tourism described
The Institute for Tourism in Croatia offers this explanation:
“Responsible tourism is the closest definition to sustainable tourism; however it tends to refer to the consumer’s choice of destination and mode of transport based on their ethical, political and racial sensitivities as well as being concerned for the environment and local culture.”
Again we see the three concepts of economy, environment and society included in the description.
The Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism adopted in 2002, states that responsible tourism is about “making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.” I like it, it’s short and to the point. And it puts the hosts first, then the tourists.
Responsible travel is a behaviour
Responsible travel is more than a set of rules, it is a behaviour. It is how we think about and engage with the tourism industry, regardless whether we are a tourist, tour operator or a member of a local community offering a tourist destination. The choices we make will determine the type of tourism we support.
Now for the good news!
- It’s not a guilt trip
The irony is that the apparent burden of responsibility will result in a more open, deeper and meaningful travel experience.
- It’s personal
A holiday is by default a very personal affair. If we add the informed choice of enjoying a responsible getaway it makes the entire experience so much more personal.
- It’s uplifting
Your responsible choices will not go unnoticed. Service providers and fellow travellers will learn from you. The environment will benefit. The host society will notice and be inspired to continue their good effort. Most of all, you will be empowered to continue on the path of responsible travelling.
Knowledge is power
Our knowledge of sustainable- and responsible travel is our best weapon against greenwashing – the practice by operators using the labels of “green” and “eco-friendly”, while behaving in environmentally and/or socially irresponsible ways.
What about the other tourism branches?
Whereas responsible travel is a behaviour, the more focussed branches such as green-, eco- and community-based travel can be seen as a product offering. These can all be enjoyed whilst being a responsible traveller.
A single blog post is not sufficient to cover all the detail, but I hope this post has uncluttered a rather complex issue. As long as we as travellers are aware of the issues, we can continue to search and research. That in itself is a huge step forward towards a better planet.
“Take only memories. Leave only footprints.” – Chief Seattle
I would love to have your thoughts on this. And if you found the post useful please share it with a friend.