WTM London 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 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.”
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 responsibletravel.com. 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 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.