This year the WTM London 2016 brought new challenges for the responsible tourism development. It is not moving fast enough. Why? How can we change the trend?
The World Travel Market London, the WTM, is one of the biggest tourism fair, just after the IBT in Berlin. Every country has its own booth whose size depends largely on the budget that the tourism offices have at their disposal. This exhibition enables travel agencies, operating tours and tourism offices to set up contracts aimed at setting up future partnerships. I went there without Denis, having been given the status of “press”, a status that you obtain just like magazines such as National Geographic or The Guardian. Fancy, no? Actually, you can get this status if you really want to, as hundreds of other bloggers participate to this conference as well. This WTM exhibition is for free and offers you the great advantage of being able to travel from one country to another without having to change the exhibition hall. Whether you are an industry professional or a blogger you can easily network at each booth.
For me, the WTM represented an opportunity to try to make some contacts in the world of responsible tourism, travel agencies, tourism offices that are willing to promote tourism of adventure and nature; I tried to focus on partnerships that could benefit from being promoted, whereas I could take advantage of their acquired knowledge and audience. It should be noted that the WTM has launched 20 years ago the day of responsible tourism that takes place during the exhibition and enables a better understanding of the challenges facing the planet in the context of tourism.
Did you know, for example, that there were almost 1.4 billion international tourists traveling the world in 2015? And that this figure keeps on increasing? By 2025, with the rise of Chinese and Indian tourism, this number could reach almost 2 billion without taking into account domestic travel!
It is increasingly obvious each year that new strategies must be put in place in order to ensure that tourism becomes significantly more responsible. It’s simply not enough anymore to promote ecotourism, it’s necessary to fundamentally alter the tourism industry so that it offers sustainable solutions to its clients. Certain destinations are already paying the consequences of their success such as Iceland that has a hard time responding to the constantly huge increasing demand. It is har for them to make sure to protect their natural landscapes that thousands of people visit every day or to respond to the tourists demand. Imagine floating around in the Blue Lagoon surrounded by thousands of people? It’s not exactly the ideal picture of a relaxing and beneficial bath…Luckily, the entrance is limited but then you end up with a lot of disappointed tourists who wanted to enjoy the blue waters...
So the year of 2017 has been placed by the United Nations under the scope of sustainability. It is crucial that regulations are put in place to ensure that destinations, as well as service providers, become more responsible. This must be done in order to ensure that the tourism growth is beneficial to the local economy and communities, so that the abundance of tourists doesn’t harm secluded, exotic places which represent the selling points for a particular destination, and finally, so that tourism is not concentrated at the level of a couple of places but balanced within the visited countries. There are so many challenges ahead, that the tourism industry is rather skeptical about taking them on from what I have noticed so far.
The WTM has around 51,000 participants, all industry professionals. In your opinion, how many of them have participated to conferences about responsible tourism? How many booths were proposing a sustainable approach to tourism? Being optimistic? I would say less than 5%. Even the centre of the exhibitions Excel, despite the recycling bins, continued to offer plastic bottles, straws, and a huge quantity of paper, magazines and plastic bags. Not at all “responsible” in my view, especially when this is being organized for the purpose of the world’s largest sustainable tourism day.
Responsible tourism remains a niche, yet it would be high time that this became the main trend in tourism. But while it is up to travels to choose well, it’s up to the industry to come up with better proposals. The tourist or traveler is looking above all to relax, to experience unique moments during the holidays. He/she is not looking to be “responsible”. It is due to this very reason that the industry must innovate, repackage the term responsible into something more playful and sensational. I can indeed reduce my plastic consumption to save marine life, but at which point in time can I feel the benefit of what I have accomplished? This is the dilemma of the responsible tourist for whom the intricacies of sustainable development may seem distant and not really affecting him/her. Professor Xavier Font, a specialist in sustainable tourism, explains during a conference at the WTM, that the industry must innovate and must find creative ways of luring in tourists without making them feel guilty.
It is true that very few of us choose a hotel based on ecological criteria, and let’s be honest here, the main search criteria for our holidays is the available budget. How many of us only choose eco-responsible hotels? How many of us select a travel agency based on its active involvement with local communities? The concept of “responsible” contradicts the term of “holidays”: on vacation everybody wants to forget about their responsibilities. That is why the change must come from the available offers as, unfortunately, if we are to believe the trends in responsible tourism, there are still very few people who think about the wellbeing of the planet or of the local communities when they go on holidays. For example, only 4% of flights’ impact is compensated worldwide.
The demand for responsible tourism doesn’t really exist, if I am to believe what I have heard and seen. On the contrary, tourists want their holidays to be highly qualitative, which usually goes hand in hand with the environment and the experiences had. A clean environment, a community willing to share with tourists, and a vivid animal life can really make the difference in choosing one destination over another.
So it is up to us, tourists and travels, to try to choose service providers and countries in order to fully benefit from a relaxing vacation without impacting the local environment as, at the end of the day, we are all responsible for at least one thing during our holidays, and that is the choices that we make.
Therefore, here is the list of the responsible tourism awards that have been attributed this year at the WTM Responsible Tourism day, to hotels, tour operators for their best practices. This was sponsored by responsibletravel.com and the Tourism Board of Belize, very involved in sustainable development. The awards have been divided in 5 categories:
- The best contribution to wildlife conservation : Winner: Sam Veasna Center (unique birds species conservation in Cambodia) – Nominees: Sam Veasna Center, Misool EcoResort (diving and conservation resort in Indonesia), East African Safari & Touring Company (offers safaris in Tanzania) and the aquarium of Burj Al Arab in Dubaï (turtle rescue center program)
- The best responsible tourism campaign: Winner: ChildSafe Movement – Nominees: Childsafe Movement (organism protecting children from orphanage tourism) and World Cetacean Alliance (protection and conservation of whales)
- The best innovation by a tour operator: Winner: Elevate Destinations – Nominees: Elevate Destinations (buy a tour, offer a tour to a child that can’t afford it) and Viaggi Solidali (same principle)
- The best accomodation for responsible employment: Winner : Lemon Tree Hotels – Nominees: Lemon Tree Hotels (hires lots of disabled people in India) and Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Resorts (local hiring, conservation projects in South Africa)
- The best for poverty reduction and inclusion: Winner: Tren Ecuador – Nominees: Tren Ecuador (restored the rails between Quito and smaller communities, hiring many locals to maintain the rails and the train also hires many locals), !Xaus Lodge (ecolodge in South Africa that helps the local communities to benefit from the increase of tourism in the lodge) and Sapa O’Chau (a responsible tour operator in North Vietnam Sapa that really helps the poor communities there)
To conclude, WTM was an amazing experience. Not just because of the networking which was for me – a start-up blogger- not even that effective. But for what I learned during the conferences, the people whom I met and explained what were their challenges and their goals, the passion of the speakers regarding sustainability and of course the amazing stands that some countries had. I truly enjoyed and will be back next year for sure! And this time, I will make sure to register for the speed networking 🙂
Translation & Copy Editing by Liana Marinoiu