Is there a business case for Responsible Tourism?

Is there a business case for Responsible Tourism?

The answer is yes and no.

Yes, because as I have written about here before, the market research demonstrates that increasing numbers of travellers, from all source markets, are looking for sustainable travel options. They report that sustainable travel is difficult to find and are angered when they are frustrated in their efforts to be sustainable. There is a clear market opportunity for those of you who are taking responsibility for making your product or destination more sustainable and communicating it well to your clients and potential clients. Suppose you are minded to riposte that surveys only record aspirations. Why would you take the sustainability aspiration less seriously than their aspiration to holiday in your part of the world?

No, because the business case is not singular; it is plural. There is a range of business cases.

At the launch of the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards in 1994 Sir Colin Marshall, then Chair of British Airways, said that tourism and the travel industry “is essentially the renting out for short-term lets, of other people’s environments, whether that is a coastline, a city, a mountain range or a rainforest.” He went on to make the classic enlightened self-interest business argument for sustainability. “These ‘products’ must be kept fresh and unsullied not just for the next day, but for every tomorrow.” Our industry is mostly reliant on selling products, places, other peoples’ homes that we neither own nor maintain. Worse, as so much of tourism takes place in the ungated public realm where there are no effective limits on the exploitation of the place. Overtourism is spreading and intensifying. We are degrading our product. Tour operators move on, and accommodation moves down market, destinations rely on volume rather than quality and yield declines. It is a downward spiral. It is a classic tragedy of the commons where the result of the exercise of individual self-interest reduces the product’s value.

So what are the arguments for Responsible Tourism?

  • Product quality: sustainability is a non-price competition by providing a richer, more authentic experience, you generate more customer satisfaction resulting in repeats and referrals.
  • Minimising risk, regulatory risk, by being an early adopter. For example, accommodation and transport invested in now will be subject to environmental regulation, resulting in expensive retrofitting. Travellers and holidaymakers do want to be left feeling guilty about what they purchased from you. Think how quickly orphanage tours, elephant back riding and swimming with dolphins went out of the market.
  • Cost savings: as the costs of resources increase, using less fossil fuel and water will benefit the bottom line
  • License to operate: neighbouring communities will be hostile to tourism unless they benefit and negative impacts are managed  It is the right thing to do: more and more frequently, managers and directors of travel and tourism businesses tell me that a child or grandchild has been asking questions or telling that recycling is important and how to do it.
  • Market advantage: Responsible Tourism can enable you to differentiate your business or destination and gain PR, enhancing reputation and encouraging referrals. Time to take responsibility and to act? If not now, when?

These are difficult times for our sector; Covid-19 is still spreading in many destinations. There is easy talk of building back better, but it remains to be seen to what extent this is achieved, for sure some destinations will do better than others, those with foresight, motivation and the necessary skills to make better places to live in, and better places to visit. The mega-resorts with one management have a better chance than those with multiple players. However, strong well-governed cities like Amsterdam and Barcelona and states like Kerala are demonstrating what can be achieved. Will others follow these pioneers where business and government work together, to keep our products “ fresh and unsullied not just for the next day, but for every tomorrow”?

Responsible Tourism Leaders 

Listen to Harold Goodwin being interviewed about the Platform for Change by Shannon Guihan, of The Travel Corporation

WTM Responsible tourism advisor talking to responsible tourism expert

Entries and nominations for the WTM Global Responsible Tourism Awards are now open, and this time they’re global. They’re free to enter, and the deadline is August 31st 2021.


  • Decarbonising Travel & Tourism,
  • Sustaining Employees and Communities through the Pandemic,
  • Destinations Building Back Better Post-COVID,
  • Increasing Diversity in Tourism: How inclusive is our industry?
  • Reducing Plastic Waste in the Environment and
  • Growing the Local Economic Benefit.

In 2021, for the first time, we are launching Global Awards for each category – selected from the Gold winners in each of the regions: India, Africa, Latin America and the rest of the world.

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Harold is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracted 4000 participants in 2020 and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Latin America. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is an Emeritus Professor, and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.

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