Responsible Tourism at WTM 2017 – highlights from Wednesday’s sessions

WTM Executive Director Simon Press opened wednesday’s World Responsible Tourism Day by reminding the audience that the focus this year has been on two key topics – overtourism and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. “Responsible tourism should be the backbone of this industry,” says Simon Press. “However overtourism is destroying the very environment and failing to give back”, adding that the winners of the WTm responsible tourism awards epitomise what is possible when responsible tourism is made central to company’s ethos. The day’s sessions began with with a panel session looking at What contribution does tourism really make to sustainable development?

While acknowledging that there were several individual examples of excellent businesses and organisations in the world, and more than ever before, Harold Goodwin, WTM Responsible Tourism Advisor, was not optimistic overall. “As a whole the industry is still doing very little, many are in denial,” he said. “Destinations have an overtourism problem but they just want more growth.”

His criticism was reinforced by Adama Bah from ICRT West Africa. “Governments still count in terms of numbers and not in terms of benefit for communities,” he said. They only think in terms of volume, how many tourists are they bringing in?”

Bah also said that the idea of development as some form of charity had to stop. “The Santa Claus mentality must stop,” said Adama Bah. “People must stop coming to developing countries looking to see how they can help. Rather destinations must be able to take control of their own future.” He said he wanted the UNWTO to work with more than just governments, and to work with private sector and communities, ensuring market access for local communities is key.”

“Destinations have an overtourism problem but they just want more growth” Harold Goodwin

This session was followed by the World Responsible Tourism Awards, this year organised for the first time by WTM after 11 years being developed by There were six winners across the following categories: Grootbos won Best for Accommodation; Chobe Game Lodge won Best for Carbon Reduction; Ljubljana won Best for Communication, Sapa O’Chau won Best Community Initiative, Village Ways won Best for Poverty Reduction and Transfrontier Parks Destinations won Best Tour Operator.

The other finalists were also recognised, with the session’s host Tanya Beckett stating Chair of the Judges Harold Goodwin had insisted it was important to emphasise that the margin between those who were the final winners, and the other finalists was only small. The remaining finalists were Crystal Creek Meadows, Green Tourism Business Scheme, Kumarakom, Ol Pejeta, Marine Dynamics and TUI Cruises.

The afternoon saw a session looking at the significance of the launch earlier in 2017 of the Berlin Declaration on Transforming Tourism, which argues that it is not possible to transform our world without transforming tourism. “We need unambiguous structural change”, said Andy Rutherford, Director, Fresh Eyes – People to People Travel, explaining that the transforming tourism agenda puts citizens at heart of a participatory democratic process defined by local level consultation, and where tourism has a role to play, but not where it dominates.” He added that full transparency was needed so that guests and anyone else can see exactly where the money goes.

“Accessible tourism is a necessity, a human right, and also an opportunity,” said Carlos Vogeler, UNWTO Executive Director for Member Relations, during a session asking Can tourism be made accessible for all? “Destinations should see this as a huge chance to connect to many more guests,” he added.

His words were supported by Ade Adepitan MBE, a Paralympian and TV presenter, who said: “Most of us will have some sort of special need at some point in our lives. Yet there are still places where I am seen as inconvenience.” Adepitan said that while it is acknowledged that everyone has a right to travel, it often seems to him that people with disabilities are further penalised for having a disability. “If you aren’t rich it can be almost impossible to travel,” he said. “Why should we we have to pay extra to be able to access?” He concluded that people need to realise it is possible for anywhere to do it, citing the example of the 2,000 year old Colosseum in Rome has even installed a lift to make it possible for people in wheelchairs to experience it. Magnus Berland, the Accessibility Director, Scandic Hotels, said the industry needs to move to a Design for All mindset, where all the rooms in the hotel were accessible to all people, rather than just a small number of rooms depending upon what regulations require.

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Responsible Tourism at WTM 2017 – highlights from Tuesday’s sessions

Tuesday’s Responsible Tourism programme started with a session exploring how travel can responsibly support some of the most excluded members of society – the homeless and those who live in slums. Andrew Derlien is Marketing and Fundraising Director of Reality Gives, the NGO partner to award winning Indian company Reality Tours, which runs tours to Dharavi in Mumbai. The tours are structured to be as respectful as possible, with no photography allowed. They also ensure that 80% of their profits are reinvested into the local community. Jayni Gudka is the Director of Unseen Tours, who employ homeless people as guides to the streets of London. She explained that their tours aim to show a “different perspective of London through the lens of homelessness’” with the guides weaving their own experiences of living on the streets into their narratives. However, she asserted that these tours do not treat homelessness as an object to be viewed, but rather are designed to empower people who have experienced homelessness to run the tours themselves and present their perspectives of living in the capital.

“Dealing with plastic waste in our oceans is not an optional extra,” Ian Rowlands

The next seminar looked at the problem of plastic waste accumulating in the world’s oceans. “Dealing with plastic waste in our oceans is not an optional extra,” explained Ian Rowlands, the director of Incredible Oceans, which seeks to use humanity’s love of whales, dolphins and other marine animals to inspire people to grapple with the rapidly escalating crisis of plastic circulating in the world’s marine environments. He said that society needs to stop using plastic, and should start with individuals making their own commitments and stopping using four every day plastic objects – plastic coffee cups and lids, single use water bottles, plastic bags, and plastic straws. Mike Webster, CEO WasteAid UK, said the tourism industry should support efforts to repurpose waste in destinations into practical materials, which had the twin benefits of both environmental impact and providing economic benefits. Dave Shanks introduced the innovative Water to Go bottle and filter, which his company has created using technology developed initially by Nasa. As a result they have created a bottle that will replace any non-salt water from anywhere in the world instantly drinkable, removing the need for plastic water bottles instantly, and can be used 400 times. Already some travel companies are using branded versions of these to replace the water bottles they give out to their clients. The session was finished by travel PR company’s Brighter Group’s director of Responsible Tourism, Trudi Pearce. She told the story of Belize, a country with the second largest reef in the world, and where 25% of the economy is reliant on tourism. Under the message that “When the reef is better, we are all better”, she explained how Brighter Group was moving beyond the standard PR relationships with a destination to help Belize address the problems that plastics are causing their environment and economy.

In a session exploring what should be done about orphanage tourism, Sallie Grayson, Programme Director of responsible volunteer organisation peopleandplaces, said that “Good intentions are not enough,” because however hard one tried to supply volunteers to orphanages as responsibly as possible, the end result was simply to fuel demand. She explained that as a result her company only works with programmes that are designed to keep children in their families. “We have to spread the word about how bad orphanage tourism is, emphasised WTM Responsible Tourism Advisor Professor Harold Goodwin. “We have to stop it.” For companies seeking to learn more about this rapidly developing issue and to avoid the risks that it poses, Emanuelle Werner from Friends International outlined a series of resources that her organisation has produced, some for travellers others for organisations, designed to raise awareness about the issue and provide guidelines as to how to avoid making the problems worse.

“The elephant in the room remains the aviation sector” Libby Owen Edmunds

In a session on Human RIghts: Trafficking and Modern Slavery, Alexandros Paraskevas from the University of West London said his research has shown that by a conservative estimate, there are 115,000 slaves working in the European hospitality industry. “Trafficking is much more than just people brought over on overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean,” he explained, “It’s more than sexual abuse in rooms, or construction workers being exploited.” He gave two examples to show what he meant. The first was of a travel agency run by human traffickers, who had placed a trafficked woman in the hotel to work as a receptionist, who for six months would register every guest who arrived independently as having being sent from their travel agency, just so they would get the commission. His other example was of a woman planted by traffickers into a hotel accountancy department so she could access people’s bank details and private information, which the traffickers would then use for blackmail and other financial crimes. While the scale of the problem is only recently being acknowledged by the industry, solutions are being developed, with Nishma Jethwa from the Shiva Foundation telling the audience of the work her organisation is doing to develop an industry first set of resources for the hotel sector.

“responsible tourism is a political issue,” John Swarbrooke

There were also two sessions reflecting on progress (or lack of) in responsible tourism and asking what more needed to be done. In the first, which looked back at how responsible tourism has developed over the past 15 years, John Swarbrooke, Professor of Tourism at the University of Plymouth said that it was important to realise that responsible tourism is a political issue. “I keep hearing how we need good management, when what we really need is good political decisions, that then enable the management,” he said, adding that it was important for people to understand that responsible tourism is not just about how we manage the impacts of tourism in developing countries. “Overtourism happens mostly in European cities,” he added, “which shows that responsible tourism is an issue that affects us all.”

In a session looking at what the priorities for Responsible Tourism should be for the next five years, the panel was each asked what were the top three issues needing addressing. Their answers were: Climate Change, Local Economic Benefits, Waste, Destination Management, Resource Efficiency, Tourism Safety and Inclusive Tourism. Director at Classic Collection Holidays, Martin Brackenbury, said that in a year where certain islands in the Caribbean – in particular Dominica – have been devastated by extreme weather events, the industry had to ensure it does whatever possible to support such countries rebuild and develop resilience in the years to come. Focussing on the acknowledge biggest issue, tourism’s impact on climate change, sustainable tourism specialist Libby Owen Edmunds referenced a recent ITP report into hotel carbon emissions, which states that the accommodation sector needs reduce its absolute emissions by 90% by 2050. However, added Edmunds: “The elephant in the room remains the aviation sector,” which she said is responsible for 80% of emissions related to tourism.

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