The business case for responsible tourism is loud and clear

WTM Latin America responsibility
Luis Lottfi, Aoka Tours, speaking at World Travel Market Latin America 2015, São Paulo, Brazil – Tourism and social Responsibility

The case for responsible business has been long established and the advent of social media and user-generated content has amplified that case. For example, in the UK outbound operators have, through ABTA, long acted to assure customers that they will not be stranded to lose their money if a company ceases trading, that they will get what it says in the brochure, and that their hotel and excursions will meet an acceptable hygiene and safety standard. More recently, this acceptance of responsibility has extended to water and energy consumption, labour conditions, child protection, local sourcing and animal welfare, to name just a few of the issues of concern to a significant and growing proportion of consumers. It’s true that some businesses remain in denial and carry on business-as-usual, but major international companies are recognising that they need to respond to the sustainability agenda and take responsibility.

Major international operators like TUI and Kuoni, as well as hotel companies like IHG, Accor and Marriott, are taking responsibility and also requiring their suppliers to take responsibility too as they seek to ensure that they have a sustainable supply chains. The spreading of Travelife is one piece of evidence of this. In a recent interview recorded exclusively for WTM Africa, Garry Wilson, Mainstream Product & Purchasing Director, TUI Group, arguably the world’s biggest travel & tourism purchaser, said of responsible tourism that: “there are very real advantages both from a cost and efficiency perspective in terms of engagement”.

The commercial case for the efficient use of resources, particularly water and fossil fuels, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and the commercial advantage that Responsible Tourism offers businesses around the world have been discussed at lively panels at WTM Africa and WTM Latin America and will be discussed at Arabian Travel Market next week.


 WTM Africa 2015 , Cape Town , South Africa - African Responsible Tourism Awards 2015- Group photograph of the Winners
WTM Africa 2015 , Cape Town , South Africa – African Responsible Tourism Awards 2015- Group photograph of the Winners

Drought is an issue in large parts of Africa, Cape Town is not immune from water shortages and the city is now affected by load shedding. In Sao Paulo water supplies were so low earlier this year that there was a very real crisis with water rationing in a city of 21 million people. In the Middle East the water supply is a major issue. And even solutions like desalination cause a great deal of carbon pollution.  Water supply, the efficient use of energy and the reduction in the carbon intensity of the tourism industry are now global issues.

In 2011 UNEP, the UN Environment Programme,  in its Green Economy Reportforecast that if the sector continued with “a business-as-usual” scenario by 2050 there would be 154% growth in energy consumption, a 131% increase in greenhouse gas emissions, a 152% increase in water consumption and a 251% increase in solid waste disposal. This is simply not sustainable.

At WTM in London in November last year the UNWTO and UNEP announced the 10-Year Framework on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP). The 10YFP Sustainable Tourism Programme is one of the first programmes to be launched recognising tourism’s unique potential to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production along and across the value chain. The10YFP Sustainable Tourism Programme is being led by UNWTO with co-leadership from the governments of  France, Korea and Morocco.

At WTM Africa we heard from hotel general managers and engineers about the cost savings which they had achieved by reducing their resource use per bed night. This has been achieved without reducing the quality of the guest experience and in many cases improving it. The payback period was in most cases relatively short and GMs pointed out that these efficiency gains improve profitability permanently. The same money invested in marketing may improve occupancy for a year or two and bring bottom line benefits. Reducing the cost base per bed night brings a permanent and recurring benefit to the bottom line. One of the GMs in the audience at WTM Africa went so far as to say that any GM who was not reducing their water, energy and waste cost base was “insane”, so beneficial were these initiatives to the profitability of their hotel.  We heard from new builds like the Cape Town Airport hotel, Hotel Verde, and from retrofits where the introduction of new systems had quickly paid for themselves and were making a significant contribution to overall profitability.

The business case is broader than just cost savings

We heard from tour operators, resort owners and national and local governments about how applying the principles of Responsible Tourism  in their product offer improved sales and profitability by making better places to visit and providing high quality experiences for travellers and holidaymakers. The Parque dos Sonhos near Sao Paulo in Brazil is an all-inclusive adventure activities resort where everyone – young and old, the able bodied and those with disabilities – are able to holiday together. Year round occupancy is high and the business in profitable. Facilities for those with guide dogs have been so successful that the able-bodied wanting to travel with their dogs are booking the facilities. At Bonito – winner of the Best Destination award in the 2013 Responsible Tourism Awards –  the accommodation and activity providers have worked together with government to manage the volumes of visitors to preserve the fragile natural environment and to maximise their yield.

Why? Because it makes good business sense.

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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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