The world tourism industry is large and growing, accounting for over 9% of global GDP1. Governments across the world have seen the benefits of tourism in terms of revenue and job creation, and have responded with programs aimed at actively promoting and developing their tourism sectors. As with many industries, however, there are questions as to how the economic benefits can be coupled with an equally beneficial social impact. This is especially important as tourists come increasingly to value travel experiences that embrace the culture and daily lives of the communities they visit, while tourist destinations are likewise seeking to extend the resources generated by tourism to more community members.

Several concepts and models have been developed as travelers, governments, and tour operators seek to channel the benefits of the tourism sector into something socially beneficial as well. “Responsible Tourism” is one such concept, which has achieved growing success in various parts of India and Africa. “Responsible tourism” was officially defined by the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism during the World Summit on Sustainable Development conference in Johannesburg in 20022. The conference outlined several objectives and characteristics of responsible tourism, defining it as that which:

  • minimises negative economic, environmental, and social impacts;

  • generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry;

  • involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances;

  • makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity;

  • provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;

  • provides access for physically challenged people; and

  • is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence

As the bullets above indicate, responsible tourism aims to foster a mutually respectful relationship between visitors and host communities while implementing systems and infrastructure that are socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable. In defining responsible tourism, the Cape Town declaration also provides guidelines for how to ensure such a system is carried out. True to the name, there is a great deal of emphasis upon the combined responsibility that all participants in the tourism industry have for ensuring a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable model. As outlined by the Cape Town declaration and subsequently refined by organizations working on implementing the model, these stakeholders include the government, tour operators, tourism professionals, and tourism authorities, emerging entrepreneurs in the tourism industry, national parks, local conservation authorities, NGOs, and hotel groups.

In certain regions, responsible tourism has been put into practice with great success. Kerala, India, for example, has been internationally recognized for the success of its pilot program in responsible tourism3. Implementation began with a workshop involving all tourism stakeholders, from hotel groups, and government bodies to local people’s representatives and academics. In addition to avoiding negative social and environmental impacts of tourism, government and private stakeholders in these regions seek to provide employment opportunities and better living conditions for the local community by actively bringing farmers, craftsmen, food vendors, fishermen, and laborers into partnership with hotels, tour groups, and other larger industry players.

Tourists are comforted to know that their purchases go directly back into the community, rather than into large multinational corporations, and also benefit from quality local produce and other products. Meanwhile, they have the opportunity to participate in various cultural and educational tourism packages in which they can learn about the history, cultural, and natural environment of the places that they visit.

Sources:

1. World Travel and Tourism Council: http://www.wttc.org/research/economic-impact-research/

2. Cape Town Declaration: http://www.responsibletourismpartnership.org/CapeTown.html

3. http://www.icrtourism.org/responsible-tourism-conference-in-kerala-in-june/