You can’t be a responsible by yourself. I may consider myself as practising responsible tourism, but my responsibility is judged on how I behave towards those others with whom I have relationships – my colleagues, friends, staff, guests, suppliers, community and the wider environment. What makes me responsible (or not) is how I choose, in essence, to respond.
If I run a tourism business, these decisions touch so many lives. Whose wine do I stock; which restaurants in the local village do I recommend to my guests; what craft stalls do I frequent on my tours. What taxi number do I ring first; which plumber do I call.
I can think of few other industries that have such a complex network of relationships. And where the potential to act as a positive, generative hub is so embedded in how we operate. Food, materials, energy, transport, craft and community are all relevant to what we do.
Nor are our relationships limited to our communities. For starters everything we do is in response to the requests and requirements of our guests from other communities and countries. And ideally when our guests go home they start maybe buying that wine, telling their friends about that restaurant, or posting a positive review of their favourite craft shop online. More than anything, responsible tourism is about this ever-expanding web of mutually supportive relationships – and the many ways we respond to one another.
Responsible tourism matters
Recently I have understood this not just as a writer, but as someone trying to start his own responsible tourism enterprise. When I am not writing for World Responsible Tourism Day, I spend a lot of my time building an initiative called Fair Game, a non-profit organisation and website I am setting up in order to promote the most responsible safari operators and to support their efforts in community-based conservation and against poaching. I have been working on it alone for some months, and it has grown fast, so fast in fact that I have of late needed to reach out to the world, to try to find partners, and to build support. (I’m still looking, by the way.)
As part of this reaching out, I wanted to work out how best I could partner with travel agents, and what I might offer back that would support their response to customers wanting to go on an ethical safari. I was recommended to talk to Karen Simmonds at Travel Matters, and told they were as responsible a travel agent I was likely to find.
So I tweeted Karen, who told me that a simple print out advising people how to be a good safari guest would be very helpful; and that she was happy to promote Fair Game on her website as part of her Make Travel Matter campaign. In response, she hoped that I would also be able to tell people a little about this campaign.
Which is what I am doing now. As Karen explains: “at Travel Matters, we make it our business to not only organise holidays which minimise on negative impact whilst maximising on quality, but to educate our clients as to how they can continue to make a difference in their future adventures.” And so, along now with Fair Game, Travel Matters promotes a list of responsible tourism organisations that includes Right Tourism, Tourism Concern, the Travel Pledge, along with some specific projects that Travel Matters is supporting, such as a community bike repair shop in South Africa.
Her company also provides advice for travellers wishing to be more responsible on holiday, and supports wider industry initiatives, such as this month’s Maker Holidays Greener campaign, run by Travel Life. Unsurprisingly, it is also a long term logo supporter of World Responsible Tourism Day. As Karen explains: “using the WRTD logo endorses our Make Travel Matter campaign and simplifies to the consumer the important message.”
That message could be summarised as follows: we’re all in this together. We need to find partners and to share each other’s stories. We need to amplify our response to the issues we are all trying to address. It’s the best way to grow and say to the rest of industry and the wider public: Responsible Tourism matters, and it is here to stay.
We are all in this together. Suppliers as well as travellers should remember we are all stewards of our planet. We can all consider our supply chains and ensure that the countries we visit benefit from tourism.