Responsible tourism communication: Are we talking to the right people?

Responsible tourism communication: Are we talking to the right people?
margate beach tourism
How do you use responsible tourism to help Margate flourish again?

It’s not surprising that if one of our blogs is about marketing or communicating responsible tourism, it gets more hits. Or that at WTM last year more people were trying to cram into a room to hear a talk on marketing responsible tourism than were to discuss issues around tourism and child protection. People want to know how to make their businesses successful, and how to communicate what they do to get more guests.

Last weekend, however, I stayed in a bed and breakfast in the British seaside town of Margate whose approach made me see all this in a new way. There is nothing on the Reading Room’s website about it being a responsible tourism initiative. No mention of any eco-credentials. And during my entire weekend there, the only overt sign of anything ethical was that the bathroom products were all natural.

reading rooms communicatin
The Reading Rooms focusses on communicating the many pleasures of staying here

At the same time it has glowing reviews throughout the UK’s travel media. Its Tripadvisor rating is 116 excellent, 13 very good and 3 average, with nothing below. Unsurprisingly, it’s booked out week after week. So it’s doing something right, but what relevance does this have for people trying to communicate responsible tourism?

The Reading Rooms is a five storey, Grade II listed Georgian town house, restored sensitively by its owners Liam and Louise. Staying there provides a rare opportunity to appreciate the building for what it is and of course our fees support its preservation.

But more importantly, it’s in Margate. This once thriving seaside town has for a long time fallen into neglect and disrepair. Only in the last few years this has begun to slowly change. In 2011 the Turner Contemporary gallery opened on the seafront. The characterful old town is abuzz with micropubs, community cafes, and a burgeoning vintage shopping scene.

The Reading Rooms is at the heart of all this. While the press is filled with reviews of how wonderful it is, its website gives a lot of space over to very personal and enthusiastic reviews of all the best things to do in Margate. It may not at first seem like an act of responsible tourism communication, but by pointing guests to all the independent shops and eateries that they can discover after breakfast, it is encouraging us to support them, without needing to give any reason other than the pleasure it will bring. Which is a far better approach than trying to shoe horn in a lecture on urban regeneration when someone is looking for a few hours pottering around the shops.

As I was leaving the Reading Rooms, however, I discovered that its co-owner Louise does a lot more than just co-run her B&B. She stood as an independent candidate in recent council elections, prompting the local Green Party to stand aside and support her, writing: ‘She has demonstrated her integrity, her tenacity and her commitment to the community with Streets Ahead Margate, with a persistent asking of difficult questions to the council and with her constant calls for greater transparency and accountability in Thanet.’ Furthermore, she is co-Chair of Margate Independent Traders and Margate Conservation Area Advisory Group. And amongst other recent efforts she led a campaign against a proposed Tesco superstore.

It’s the Reading Room’s success that has given Louise this platform to help her community that she probably wouldn’t otherwise have. And it’s reminded me that communicating responsible tourism is about more than working out how to present the issues to your customers. Sometimes it’s not about talking to them at all.

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Jeremy Smith is the editor of sustainable tourism news site Author of recently published Transforming Travel - realising the potential of sustainable tourism (2018). As well as writing a fortnightly blog for WTM's responsible tourism website, he works with responsible and sustainable travel businesses, developing their communications, brands, marketing and digital & social media strategy. He is co-author of Rough Guides' only guidebook dedicated to responsible tourism, Clean Breaks - 500 New Ways to See the World. Before that he was editor of The Ecologist, the world's longest-running environmental magazine. Travindy - Latest book -

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