Harold Goodwin is Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership, Advisor to WTM on Responsible Tourism and Founder Director of the ICRT.
On the occasion of the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, we talked with him about the present and the future of Responsible tourism.
1- You have been researching about Responsible tourism for many years.
What is the current situation of Responsible tourism? Can we say that Responsible tourism will be the only tourism possible from now on?
This year at WTM London we shall be reflecting on 15 years of Responsible Tourism since the 2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations Significant progress has been, we see the evidence for this every year in the Responsible Tourism Awards presented now at WTM London, WTM Africa and in India and Ireland. Since 2004 we have given awards to hundreds of companies and destination, examples of people taking responsibility and making tourism better. The Awards share good practice examples, we use them to inspire, educate and challenge others to step up to the plate and make a difference. You can find the winners for 2004-2016 here; it is inspiring to see what has been achieved. This year’s WTM Responsible Tourism Awards focus on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – we’ll see some more stunning examples of the impact of leading examples of responsibility backed by evidence of impact.
Progress has been made, but the challenges grow faster than we address them and responsibility is still a minority practice. Business is driven by short term profit, there is plenty of evidence that it doesn’t have to be that way – just look at the success of companies like TUI and the many tour operators and accommodation providers which have been awarded for their efforts, Responsibility and profitability are not mutually exclusive. Award winners are still in business.
2- 2017 has been declared by the UN “the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development”. Do you think that this year will be the starting point for a “responsible revolution” of the tourism industry all over the World?
We are now half way through the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, I don’t think we can point to a step change – we are not going to see a responsible tourism revolution. The USA and Europe are not focussed on sustainability, leadership is perhaps moving towards China and India. I think we shall see a step change this year in the kind of evidence which businesses and destinations need to present to win a Responsible Tourism Award. We need to do more faster if we are to avoid the mounting negative impacts of tourism on the environment and our diverse cultures.
3- Recently more and more people are travelling all over the world, getting to know new cultures and societies but the result seems more overtourism than mutual comprehension and dialogue. What do you think?
I agree. Overtourism is what happens when tourism bumps up against the limits – physical and psychological to growth. Tourism is what we make it; Barcelona and Venice do not inevitably have to be dominated by tourism, victims of mass tourism. Increasingly residents are raising the issue and it is moving up the political agenda in the city governments. Overtourism describes destinations where hosts or guests, locals or visitors, feel that there are too many visitors and that the quality of life in the area or the quality of the experience has deteriorated unacceptably. It is the opposite of Responsible Tourism which is about using tourism to make better places to live in and better places to visit. Often both visitors and guests experience the deterioration concurrently. Barcelona is a leading example of a city which is addressing the challenge – many others are now beginning to do so as the balance shifts from tourism promotion to managing tourism sustainably.
However, sustainability will only be achieved by appropriate and effective management by local government addressing the challenge of disintermediation and the sheer volume of visitors. When we started with the Responsible Tourism Movement in the later 1990s we focused on outbound tour operators, twenty years on there are few destinations where any one or two operators are sufficiently influential to make much difference. Now the focus has to be on local government and their destination management
4- Do you think that Responsible tourism concerns more the people (that choose to travel responsibly) or of the destinations (that has to develop a form of tourism that is responsible and sustainable)?
The choices we make as producers and consumers of tourism make tourism what it is. Tourism cannot be made sustainable without the positive engagement of producers and consumers. Local government has a host of powers available to it to manage tourism and there is increased sharing of ideas between city government and cultural and natural heritage property managers about the management strategies and tools available – management responsibility resides with the destination and property managers. We need to demand that they exercise that responsibility
5- Do you think that Europe can be considered a model of Responsible Tourism for the rest of the World?
Hardly, look at the problems in Venice, Rome and on the Amalfi Coast, in Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona and London. There are good examples all over the world of businesses and places which are acting responsibly – regrettably Europe is not leading in this; although Barcelona is probably doing more than anywhere else to manage tourism sustainably.
If you want to follow Harold Goodwin