Responsible and sustainable should no longer be a fancy phrase travel companies use, or words placed in CSR reports to shut the campaigners up. They are quickly becoming a necessity. I hope this is the year that the tourism industry will awake from its perfect dream of profits, development and increase tourist numbers to the realization that this is a business model that is not sustainable unless responsible tourism is taken seriously.
Working in the industry, I understand how important WTM (World Travel Market) can be for obtaining and spending marketing budgets, creating new partnerships and promoting products. But within business to business discussions, how much of it includes the essential responsible tourism? You would hope quite a lot, especially as it is essential to protecting and even enhancing their product! But in the real world, I bet responsible tourism is barely touched upon. Off course, Wednesday 5th November is World Responsible Tourism Day which is kicked off by the 11th World Responsible Tourism Awards at WTM, but how much is responsible tourism discussed on the exhibition’s floor, during business meetings, in making new deals, when creating partnerships? DMO’s and Tourist boards are just not interested, they are blinkered by quick profits, so how can we change this? Perhaps these 4 points may help travel organisations realize that ethical, sustainable and responsible tourism sells?
1, Forget what it is
The question I think that most need to ask in promoting ethical holidays is, do the words ‘eco’, ‘sustainable’, ‘ethical’ and ‘responsible’ excite me? If it doesn’t excite you then how will it excite Tourism Boards and DMO’s who have already been dragged through many meetings? Companies throw words in descriptions like ‘authentic’, ‘immerse yourself’ and ‘off the beaten track’ to strengthen terms like responsible tourism. Is it possible that many are now bored of hearing it or that we simply do not believe it, especially as I took these phrases from the largest cruise ship liners websites?
I have heard sustainability been termed ‘disaster porn’ as it is often related to imagery like deforestation and pollution Sometimes talking about responsible tourism has a disastrous effect, and by simply mentioning these words I have watched peoples life drain from their eyes as they start thinking about how to change the conversation. People can switch off or even become defensive when they think they are talking to another eco-warrior. The last thing you want to do is stop people from listening. You need to change the narrative, move people away from the unwanted discourse, redefine ethical holidaying make it bloody exciting! So how do you talk about responsible tourism without mentioning the words?
2, Excite people with stories
People do not travel to be ethical. I would even go as far as saying that I believe that most volunteer tourists are not enrolling to be completely altruistic. My experience tells me that the main reason people travel from England is to relax somewhere warm but many people from around the world travel to create memories, to experiencing something different from their everyday lives, eat interesting food and ‘to get away from it all’. Tourism companies will obviously be switched on to tourists motivations and that’s potentially why they are not turned on by responsible travel.
The main obstacle you will need to overcome is tourism organisations already have a preconception of what responsible tourism is and within profit-making organisations, it is not always the best one. Most tourists simply do not consider ethics when they choose a holiday, so companies do not spend to promote it. However, tourists will want to have a very positive memorable experience. Travellers, holidaymakers, tourists love to brag and tell stories of their travels and to be honest most of the time, if it is a good story, people love to listen. Stories are a way people connect others to their experiences. By telling a great responsible travel story, one that tourists would be excited to hear, you can connect, listen and engage anybody with the concept and inspire them to buy into it. All this without even muttering the dreaded eco-warrior tongue!
3, There’s money to be made
Every day I speak to people who are looking for something authentic, exciting and ‘different’. Today I spoke to a family with 2 children who every year travel to Florida Disney Land with another family. They book through Thompson because its safe and they know that nothing will happen. But after talking it through, they all realized they don’t like ‘artificial’ trips and large crowds and that it wasn’t a very enjoyable holiday at all! This time they are opting for a responsible wildlife experience in Asia and bringing the other family with them. I like to think responsible travel as giving people what they want without them even knowing it. People are now looking for more meaningful experiences which means you can follow the mantra ‘do well by doing good’.
Sustainability in tourism doesn’t have to be about saving a rain forest, the Travel Foundation explains that by using the sustainability concept you can reduce costs, improve efficiency and gain customers. For an example, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you pay staff a fairer wage you will get better customer service, or if you save energy you will reduce your overheads. Sounds pretty good so far… but if you ‘do’ decide to save the rainforest as well and create a ‘green’ and ‘ethical’ holiday you may also gain a foothold in the huge Chinese tourism market that prefers green destinations and will pay more for it.
4, It doesn’t have to be off the beaten track
This is a simple one, and perhaps why a lot of people do not want a responsible holiday. For some reason, it has adopted the connotation that to be on a responsible holiday you need to cut your way through a jungle, eat turkeys head and feet soup with hill tribes and sleep on a hard bed with insects. This is simply not true, it can be luxury, you can relax on a beach, it can be very comfortable and it also can be easy and safe and enjoyable for families.