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Eco, sustainable or responsible?

What’s the difference between responsible tourism and ecotourism, and does it matter?  Many of the views expressed in this responsible travel and tourism discussion group are worth taking on board, whether you’re interested in tourism academically, for business purposes, or as a traveller who wants to get more out of your holiday experiences and the places you visit.  Note in particular Anthony Climpson’s “ode to all stakeholders to help make tourism more responsible and play our part in ‘good’ tourism development”.  This presents a virtuous circle that some visited and lived-in places would do well to set in motion (remembering that places are people; that people make places).

My thoughts:

Responsible tourism, eco-tourism, or even sustainable tourism: we need to distinguish between what we believe these terms to be (which therefore shapes the definitions we debate over), and what is being done on the ground.

Some excellent things are happening beneath the banners of eco-tourism, responsible tourism and sustainable tourism.  But then there is also a lot deceitful, ignorant or sloppy application of these terms to components of holidays and travel (greenwashing), and this has blighted all three terms to some extent, as well as the often overlapping movements behind them.

There are also excellent things taking place on tours, in stays, as part of tourism “product”, or in travel generally, where claims to be green, eco-, sustainable or responsible are entirely absent.  Note that neither of the joint overall winners of this year’s Responsible Tourism Awards define themselves as either eco-tourism or responsible tourism.  Yet one thing’s for sure, they’re taking responsibility for issues beyond the conventional business remit, incorporating into their business both the principles and acts of responsibility-taking, and they’re doing something very positive and inspiring to boot.

The question is another in a series of questions posed in this discussion group provoking useful debate (the one on ethics and authenticity was active too).  Yet we can agree, disagree and carry on developing terms all we like–to what end, if reality isn’t changing on the ground?  I think it’s crucial that there is a greater prevalence of the right intentions, ethos and understanding; and thereafter the manifestation of these in decisions, actions, better outcomes for local communities and environments, and of course, better more enriching travel experiences!

We also need to keep refreshing our thinking based on readings of what’s going on “on the ground”, to understand how the wider public believes, perceives, purchases, behaves and responds to travel and tourism experiences.  After all, in global travel population terms, we are a fairly like-minded bunch in this forum.

We also have to keep a watch on what others are doing.  Hence the need for data gathering, reporting, monitoring, advocating, educating, celebrating (awards), policy-making, whistle-blowing, networking, best-practice sharing, and all-round positive change-making.

One thing’s for sure, both eco-tourism and responsible tourism movements are challenged by the “flying to destination” issue, bio-fuels or not.  In the meantime, we travellers will just keep on morally disengaging every time we get on a plane.

In the end, I favour the language of taking responsibility, noting that we do that along a journey of continuous mutual learning.

ROBIN BARDEN

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