“Protecting the environment, healthy ecosystems are the very asset that a rich ecotourism experiences is reliant on, conserving the environment ensures the sustainability of future tourism opportunities and growth”
A plethora of phrases such as responsible tourism, sustainable tourism, green tourism and ecotourism are often thrown in tourism circles, all subtly different, seldom really understood but with the same intention, ensuring our tourism industry becomes a tool for doing good.
The term responsible tourism refers to tourism that has the following characteristics:
• Minimises negative economic, environmental, and social impacts;
• Generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry;
• Involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances;
• Makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity;
• Provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;
• Provides access for physically challenged people;
• And is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
These are not just useful tools to ensure a vibrant, sustainable tourism economy but also very valuable marketing tools for the tourism industry. For example, a survey of TripAdvisor members in 2012 found that as many as 71% said they plan to make more eco-friendly travel choices in the next 12 months. According to a 2012, Nielsen Wire survey, two thirds (66%) of consumers around the world say they prefer to buy tourism products and services from companies that have implemented programs to give back to society. Responsible Travel is clearly a major tourism opportunity.
But we have also found an odd anomaly, many hotels and tour operators often report a lack of demand for responsible tourism from the international market, tourists just don’t ask for it they say. As a result, the tourism industry either doesn’t pay a lot of attention to responsible travel or doesn’t put a lot of effort into promoting their responsible tourism initiatives. So why, if there is such a demand for responsible tourism do we not get bombarded with questions about responsible tourism initiatives all the time? The answer, tourists do not ask for it as they simply just expect it. If a tourist (especially the international market) makes use of a tourism product they feel is not “responsible” they simply do not come back and do not refer it to family and friends. So in short, even though tourists do not constantly ask for your “green” credentials, does not mean they are not looking and expecting it.
Making a difference as a tourist?
Few people actually go out of their way to be irresponsible, after all, but sometimes we just need a few reminders about how to get things right while travelling. Responsible tourism is all about leaving a positive impact on not only the environment, but also the people who live in the places we choose to visit. Here are a few pointers to help you make better choices
• Ask questions, when booking into a hotel or going on a tour, ask questions about what programs and policies the operator has in place to minimize their impact on the environment and how they support local communities.
• Respect people and their local cultures, the most important thing to remember is that you are visiting people's homes, so think how you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed
• Be aware of any excursions on your trips that involve captive animals. There are a lot of issues regarding responsible wildlife viewing; generally speaking, if it’s in a cage you’re not an authentic experience.
• Use public transport as much as you can, this is often a great way to meet local people and get a feel for a new place plus it also does a lot to minimize your carbon footprint when travelling
• Make use of local guides, you get valuable added local knowledge and you’re putting your money where it is needed the most
How to make a difference as a tourism business?
Ultimately, any responsible business obviously wants to make profit, but it is also widely recognized that businesses that do good and focus on the triple bottom line make even more profit. The business case for responsible tourism is clear but certification and related requirements can often be onerous on small business owners, managers and staff that have a lot of other issues to deal with.
For this reason, the City of eThekwini with its partner the Durban Green Corridor with technical expertise from our sister city in Bremen, Germany are busy working on a voluntary responsible tourism project for the city. The project moves away from onerous certification programs and focuses on helping business owners make a positive difference in their communities and for the environment, even in a small way. The program will also focus on a gradual process of continuous improvement and most importantly connect responsible tourism businesses with the tourism market.
Responsible Tourism is a journey, not a destination and our intention to be there to help you along the journey. It is totally voluntary, no direct costs and a simple accessible way to use tourism to help make our city a better city.