Tourists are now searching for something a little different in their holidays and marketers have been cashing in on the demand. Words like ‘authentic’ are now being spread across many holiday itineraries like its tomato ketchup; itineraries cannot do without it but tourists are noticing things still taste as bland as ever. The general multinational holiday providers such as First Choice haven’t been able to keep up with the demand and tourists are beginning to look elsewhere. This change is opening up huge opportunities for smaller, more specialised travel companies such as the ones offered by Responsible Travel.
As tourists start to branch into new possibilities the larger, more general operators need to be reactive and anticipate the trends. It is still the case that Disney Land, Benidorm, cruises and the all inclusive holidays make up the largest chunk of tourism revenue. But amazingly, responsible tourism is forcing its way in and popping up in places you would least expect.
It is important to remember that tourism is a consumer-driven market, it will evolve alongside trends to maintain its customer database. Tourists travel to get away or experience something different from their everyday lives and while the world continues to open up to new possibilities they are demanding increasingly more specialised trips. New forms of travel are emerging as the family adventurers, grown-up gapper or career breaker, flashpacker, experiential traveller and slow traveller become increasingly popular. As an advocate for responsible travel, I couldn’t have planned it any more perfectly. All these new trends are completely dependent on local knowledge or are tied up within responsible tourism.
Many suggest that responsible tourism should be used as a USP to promote a holiday. This is backed by organisations such as the Tearfund within their ‘World Apart Survey’, suggesting that tour operators should ‘report on these activities so that consumers can choose their holidays based on ethical criteria’. I am probably dangerously hovering my head over the guillotine so that responsible tourism consultants can take a swift chop, but the material that forms the evidence for this survey is subject to a degree of cognitive dissonance. I bet when people buy a holiday they are not looking for a holiday with strong responsible credentials, they are looking at either the price or for the experience that they desire whether it is relaxing on a beach or climbing Kilimanjaro.
The one danger that responsible tourism faces is simply mentioning ‘ethical’ or ‘green’ to describe a holiday. Words like these could have the opposing effect and repel the large crowd we need to attract into responsible tourism. Sadly, the truth is, most people do not go on holiday to be responsible or ethical, they go on holiday to enjoy themselves. Responsible tourism needs to hit the cruises, the package holidays and the all-inclusive to make a true impact, so the longer it remains a secret the better.
I believe responsible tourism should sneak into mainstream tourism, it is only going to run into difficulties if its promoted. It should be that silent bonus that people are looking for in a holiday, the odd encounter with an interesting local, the amazing bar you stumbled across or the chance to see a whale in its natural habitat. Responsible Travel is happening now right under our noses and we don’t even realise it. For an example, according to TUI Group it is now core to their mainstream business and the growth of peer to peer websites like homestay.com and Airbnb allow you to book directly with the locals; saving the tourists money but also opening doors for local people to take advantage of the tourist dollar.
Responsible tourism was once a small genre that stood alone and didn’t make a scratch in the tourism marketplace. But now, I think its beginning to make a real impact. Due to consumer pressures, responsible tourism is moving from standing as a genre on its own to forming coalitions with other holiday types. This is where its strongest, it can enhance the general package holiday, cruise or the all-inclusive to provide a far richer experience. Larger multinational organisations cannot offer these types of experiences unless they include the local people into their supply chain and to treat them fairly so they are willing to let people have a glimpse into their lives.