By Dr. Harold Goodwin, Professor of Tourism at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Responsible Tourism is an inspiration and a challenge to the industry, communities and travellers to enhance the positive impacts of tourism and to reduce the negative impacts. Tourism is a social activity, it is what we – the industry, destinations and travellers – make it. We are individually and collectively responsible for what tourism is, it is what we do. The positive and negative impacts are a consequence of our behaviour. We can change tourism.
Responsible Tourism is about making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit, in that order. Interesting and enjoyable places to live in are great places to visit. The challenge of Responsible Tourism is to use tourism for sustainable development. The key question to ask is whether the place is being used by tourism, or whether the local community is using tourism? Responsible Tourism starts from the assumption that the place, and its natural and cultural heritage, has value for local people and the visitors. The aspiration is for forms of tourism which can best be characterised by the language of host and guest, where the relationships between locals and tourists, between visitors and visited, embody respect, accountably, transparently and responsibly.
The key question to ask is whether the place is being used by tourism, or whether the local community is using tourism?
Responsible Tourism values and celebrates diversity, it recognises that places are different, that they have particular natural and cultural heritage, a product of their geography and history and the way in which people have lived in different places over hundreds of years. Responsible Tourism and sustainable tourism are not the same thing. Responsible Tourism places the emphasis on identifying the particular local issues of sustainability, the things which matter locally and which tourism can do something about. It is about businesses, in the destination and the source markets, local communities and their local authorities tackling those issues, agreeing priorities and then each stakeholder shouldering their responsibility to make tourism better.
So, Responsible Tourism is about what you do to make better places – better for people and wildlife. Sustainable tourism is the aspiration, whereas the exercise of responsibility is about how the rather vague aspiration of sustainability is achieved. Sustainable tourism, like sustainability, defies definition. Transparency is a key part of a Responsible Tourism approach, which starts with an analysis of the local situation, identifying the issues, the problems, which affect local communities and their environment. It is about identifying the local priorities where tourism can make a contribution to improving the situation, by reducing negative impacts or increasing positive ones, for example through creating quality employment opportunities, or making a larger contribution to natural or cultural heritage conservation.
All issues are local; priorities vary from place to place. Water is a global issue – the problem of fresh water scarcity occurs in many places around the world – but it is not an issue everywhere. It makes no sense to prioritise reducing water consumption if it is not a local issue. The only global issues are those which cause air pollution – particularly greenhouse gas emissions – and the pollution of the seas with solid wastes and effluents. We need to take responsibility for tackling those issues which matter locally – we can only act locally, responsibility can only be exercised locally in particular places and circumstances.
Transparency is important for two reasons. If I am travelling to an arid area and I care about water consumption in local hotels, to inform my choice of where to stay I need to be able to identify those hotels with the lowest water consumption per guest night. Green certification is an opaque process. I cannot know from the certificates which hotel has the best performance on water conservation. Transparency matters too because we need to educate and engage travellers in demanding better sustainability performance from tourism businesses – we need to create knowledgeable critical consumers, and encourage them to complain and demand better.
One of the major challenges for small island states is the differentiation of their destination from the others.
Tourism can create employment, generate greater local economic benefits and enhance the wellbeing of local communities, contribute to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, empower local communities, provide more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues. These objectives are at the heart of Responsible Tourism and its core values are respect, transparency and social inclusion – “holidays for all”. It is culturally sensitive, engendering respect between tourists and hosts, and building local pride and confidence.
One of the major challenges for small island states is the differentiation of their destination from the others. There is an oversupply of sun, sand and sea tourism and islands are vulnerable to commercial pressure from airlines, cruise companies and the large retailers who are able to push down prices. There would be considerable benefit in more cooperation between destinations in dealing with parts of the industry, avoiding large buyers playing one island against another. Without this there is a real danger of a race to the bottom.
Identify the particular local issues where tourism can make a difference, and take responsibility for making change. Tourism is what we make it.
Harold Goodwin is Professor of Responsible Tourism at Manchester Metropolitan University and Founding Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism. For the last fifteen year he has been at the forefront of efforts to make tourism more responsible, working with tour operators in the UK, as an originating market, and with communities and governments in destinations around the world. He wrote the original paper on tourism and poverty elimination for Britain’s Department for International Development and has worked in The Gambia on the implementation of pro-poor tourism initiatives, undertaken evaluations for the government of the Netherlands pro-poor tourism programmes and provided training and consultancy studies for UNWTO and the World Bank. He drafted the Cape Town Declaration and co-chaired the conference in 2002. He advises ABTA and chairs the judges of World Responsible Tourism Awards and the advisory panel of the International Tourism Partnership of leading international hotels.