Next Tuesday, World Tourism Day will be celebrated from Indonesia, “putting people and planet first and bringing everyone from governments and businesses to local communities together around a shared vision for a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient sector.” . Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General of the UNWTO, describes the basic idea of the UNWTO that “even more people can benefit from the restart of tourism”. There are three calls to action: “Keep talking,” “Celebrate,” and “Share your story.” Not a big call to change and intervene to ensure tourism benefits the economy.
Two decades ago, in 2002, the first international conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations was held as part of a side event to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Cape Town. At that time, the WTO and several other UN organizations took part. The Cape Town Declaration called on governments and the private sector to “refocus on sustainability, economic development and, in particular, poverty reduction. DFID-funded work on pro-poor tourism was presented and endorsed at the 1999 CSD7 at the United Nations in New York. We know what needs to be done to make tourism more inclusive. We just have to do it.
We reviewed South Africa’s detailed responsible tourism guidelines and there was a call for action. The conference called on “countries, multilateral agencies, destinations and businesses to develop similar practical guidelines and encourage planning authorities, tourism businesses, tourists and local communities to take responsibility for realizing sustainable tourism and “better places to live for people.” create”. and better places to visit.”
I have just spent the better part of a month in India visiting initiatives in Kerala and Madhya Pradesh where there are work programs that create opportunities for the economically poor but culturally rich communities of rural India. Many individual companies have worked to ensure that the neighboring communities benefit from tourism. Kerala and Madhya Pradesh have pooled government resources and worked with local village councils, the panchayat and the private sector to capitalize on learnings from pro-poor tourism work and experiences in The Gambia and South Africa. Madhya Pradesh has built on Kerala’s experience and made remarkably rapid progress. Unfortunately, South Africa and The Gambia have lacked the political will to make the changes to make inclusive tourism a reality and to force the private sector to get involved. India is now the world’s leading destination for responsible tourism, benefiting both communities and industry, which now has a longer stay and a culturally rich and diverse array of informal sector experiences to sell. In India we see active partnerships that are successfully making tourism more inclusive.
Sustainable and responsible tourism are not the same. Unless businesses and governments work with local communities to ensure access and economic benefits, more inclusive tourism will not be achieved. It is taking responsibility and taking action that leads to sustainable and inclusive tourism. In truth, there is little to celebrate, although each year we see excellent examples of effective corporate action at the Responsible Tourism Awards. It is only in recent years that we have seen governments, the private sector and communities working together to make tourism more inclusive, and then only in Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.
There is a gulf between the fine words and politics and the lack of action to combat climate change, the same goes for inclusive tourism. Queen Elizabeth was rarely heard commenting on the actions, or rather the lack of them. As she recently commented on climate change, “It’s very irritating when they talk – but don’t do it.” She could have said the same thing about inclusive tourism. I will miss their willingness to speak the truth to those in power, albeit mostly in private.
Responsible tourism is about making changes that are good for local communities and their natural and cultural heritage. We can only promote sustainability if we take responsibility. Industry and government must take the lead and create sustainable choices for travelers and vacationers. Booking.com’s 2021 report found that 83% of global travelers believe sustainable travel is vital. Almost half (49%) still believe there aren’t enough sustainable travel options, with 53% admitting they get annoyed when their accommodation prevents them from being sustainable, for example due to the lack of recycling options.
Businesses and governments create the framework in which travelers and vacationers make their decisions. Businesses and governments can and must make tourism sustainable. They must take responsibility for improving tourism for local communities. It’s time for action.
At Tendu Leaf Jungle Resort, there’s a sign on the way you approach the restaurant that says the same thing as “Don’t mind the clatter, mind your hands”, softer but maybe more powerful.
The difference between sustainable and responsible tourism is revealed. Sustainability is an abstract idea, often an ineffective goal, a mantra that is uttered but not implemented. The examples we have seen in Kerala and Madhya Pradesh have shown this difference. Where people take responsibility and act, real change occurs, tourism improves and local communities secure better livelihoods.