What does responsible tourism mean to you?

October 23, 2020 10:13 pm

Responsibility is the key to successful and meaningful tourism.  

If you’re constantly asking yourself what responsible tourism means to you, it’s a sign that you’re on the right track as a professional within the tourism and hospitality industry.   

Within the tourism and hospitality industry, we’re all striving to share our special part of the world with the rest of the world. But how do we do so responsibly? It’s a question that even the most experienced tourism and hospitality professionals ask themselves on a daily basis.  

That’s because it’s a healthy question to ask. 

You may be surprised to know that there’s actually an official definition of responsible tourism. (We’ll touch on that in a moment). But before we do, why not take a few minutes to stop and have a brainstorm about your own definition of responsible tourism? You don’t need to go too extreme here. Try jotting down a few keywords and bullet points. When you’re done, come back and see how your definition aligns with the official one. 

Responsible vs Sustainable Tourism 

While responsible tourism certainly means different things to different people, it’s important to keep one crucial distinction in mind: responsible tourism and sustainable tourism are not the same thing. 

Many people get these two terms confused, and it’s an easy mistake to make. But for those of us within the tourism and hospitality industry, we have a moral and ethical obligation to know the difference.

Let’s take a look at the key differences.  

Responsible Tourism  

In 2002, The Cape Town Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations featured as an event at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and it was attended by 280 delegates from 20 countries. 

Over the course of this summit, a widely-accepted definition of responsible tourism was born. Responsible tourism is about “making better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.” It requires operators, hoteliers, governments, local people, and tourists to take responsibility and take action to make tourism more sustainable.   

So, just how do we make better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit? And how do we do so responsibly? 

To achieve responsible tourism, we must: 

  1. Minimise the negative economic, environmental, and social impacts;
  2. Generate greater economic benefits for local people and enhance the well-being of host communities, improve working conditions and access to the industry;
  3. Involve local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances;
  4. Make positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage;
  5. Provide more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;
  6. Provide access for physically challenged people;
  7. Be culturally sensitive, create respect between tourists and hosts, and build local pride and confidence.

Sustainable Tourism 

You may have noticed the use of the word “sustainable” within the definition of responsible tourism. Defined by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, sustainable tourism is “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities.”

While these definitions share similarities, there are key differences to keep in mind. Try and think of sustainable tourism as the goal of responsible tourism. We achieve true sustainability only if people commit to taking collective responsibility.

To ensure we’re promoting sustainable tourism, we must: 

  1. Maximise the use of environmental resources that establish a key element in tourism development, maintaining essential ecological processes and helping to conserve natural heritage and biodiversity.
  2. Respect the socio-cultural authenticity of host communities, conserve their built and living cultural heritage and traditional values, and contribute to intercultural understanding and tolerance.
  3. Ensure viable, long-term economic operations, providing socio-economic benefits to all participants that are fairly distributed, including stable employment and income-earning opportunities and social services to host communities, and contributing to poverty alleviation.

Sustainable tourism is an ongoing, constantly-evolving process – requiring constant monitoring of impacts. The introduction of necessary preventive and/or corrective measures. 

Responsible Tourism during COVID-19

We’re living in an incredibly challenging time for people all over the world, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. And this year has seen incredible changes to the ways people are travelling during this pandemic.  

We’re all striving to make better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit. But doing so safely and ethically during COVID-19 is something we should all be seriously considering. 

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