Ethical tourism on the up
Travel agents are reporting an increased demand for ethical tourism, fuelled by a recent spate of television programmes and newspaper reports on the damaging effects that some tourism can have on developing countries. This ties in with a general trend towards ‘responsible consumerism’, with supermarkets now stocking fair trade products and shoppers becoming more and more aware of where goods come from and the conditions they are produced under.
So how can we, as an industry, respond to this demand? Clearly we have a duty to promote responsible tourism, but up until now this has been very much a niche market. How can we help bring it into the mainstream?
First we need to be clear what responsible tourism means. It means ensuring that tourism does not have a negative impact on the environment. We can help by using hotels that pursue good environmental practices, such as conserving water and minimising waste. It means making sure that local people benefit financially from tourism, not just through direct employment, but also through providing supplies. We can encourage tour operators to use locally-owned hotels and transport companies, and employ local guides. It means helping our customers to be responsible tourists by giving them information about appropriate dress, local customs etc.
We should also dispel a couple of myths about ethical tourism. It does not mean the end of package holidays. If we encourage our customers to choose bed and breakfast or half-board regimes, local restaurants, bars and taxi drivers will benefit. Our clients may not realise that if they opt for all-inclusive resorts, it will be mainly the foreign companies which control them who will benefit. We can help them to make informed choices.
Many people in the industry believe that tourists are not prepared to pay more for their holidays in order to ensure a better deal for local people. It is certainly true that responsible tourism can be more expensive. However, a recent survey has found that two thirds of all package tourists would be prepared to pay an extra £10 to £25 towards environmental or social improvements. We should no longer concentrate on bringing down costs and providing the cheapest possible holidays without considering the consequences. We need to change our way of thinking, and provide the type of holiday that today’s informed consumer is demanding.