I am still unsure whether holiday companies have grasped the idea that responsible tourism is essential if they are going to keep their heads above the water. Profitability is always the best way to convince holiday companies that responsible tourism is a sensible addition to their products. For example, it provides a competitive advantage and is making its way into holiday itineraries. However, responsible tourism isn’t essential for business but rather an additional cost or a bit of a pain (so much so that many pay other companies to increase their responsible tourism credentials through tokenistic schemes like carbon offsetting) and it is also a lot of extra work for little return. So how do we make responsible travel indispensable?
As champions of responsible travel, I think we only have ourselves to blame for the limited demand in responsible holidays. The 3 pillars of responsible tourism (often also quoted in sustainable tourism) fails and tumbles as it misses the cement that holds it all together, the tourist.
Unfortunately, I am also often guilty of missing this point. We simply haven’t been able to explain it in a way that will excite tourists, instead we focus on what ‘we’ think is important. For example, this weekend at a party I was asked the inevitable question, which is for some reason still hard for me to answer, what do you do for a living? Like a stuck record, I caught myself saying the usual statement, one that they have probably heard many times; ‘our holidays creates a viable income for communities in poorer destinations whilst conserving the natural environment and supporting conservation efforts’. I automatically did the one thing that I suggested never to do and perhaps due to mass greenwashing they didn’t believe me.
The issue was that in my statement I did not mention how the tourist benefits and because I was talking to potential tourists I lost the room very quickly. They really wanted to hear some stories about exciting adventures which are plentiful in responsible tourism. Its simple, people struggle to relate responsibility with fun. Tourists do not understand that responsible holidays provide more fulfilling, authentic and enriched experience so selling the ethics to tourism companies will not work either. To convince companies that responsible tourism is good for business we may need to look elsewhere. We cannot wait for customers to put pressure on businesses to become responsible because by that time it will be too late.
I hate cheesy sales, but explaining responsible tourism within a context of a cheesy salesman ‘it will future proof your business’, may actually help. Noel Josephides, ABTA’s chairman, suggested in an article for the National Geographic that responsible tourism ‘businesses have been resilient, and in many cases have flourished during this economically challenging period’. This is due to the basic and core fundamentals in responsible tourism, to be closely connected to all stakeholders allowing you to be at the front of the curve rather than behind it.
Staying in front of the curve may have solved the problem with beach vendors in Jamaica which has recently hit the news. The spread of package hotels across the Jamaican seafront has created a barrier separating the tourist and the local population. This separation has aggravated a situation whereby tourists are afraid of the beach vendors. It is now becoming a serious issue as many complain of feeling hassled. However, I bet the all inclusive’s will blame the local population rather than set time aside for self-reflection. I am unsure that they will admit that it is, in fact, their business model that has intensified the issue damaging their profits.
But package holidays and cruises are starting to struggle as the branch that they are sitting on begins to snap. If responsible tourism continues to be ignored and companies slip behind the curve problems like Jamaica will become increasingly common and holiday companies will search for a solution. Instead of forcing responsible travel upon them and acting like preachers we can work with them to show how issues like this can be solved before they occur. This is how we make holiday companies desperate for responsible tourism.