The World Travel Market, held each November in London, is an important gathering of public and private players in tourism. Starting on Monday, November 8, the ExCel London Convention Center became a cross-section of the tourism world, including regional and country exhibits that served as meeting places for business people and public figures working in one of the world’s largest and fastest growing industries.
This year, responsible tourism made its way from a niche-market corner into the mainstream. The BBC World sponsored the World Responsible Tourism Programme (WRTP), which included a series of seminars on some of the major topics within tourism and sustainability. The Programme culminated with World Responsible Tourism Day on Wednesday November 10, when the much-anticipated 2010 Responsible Tourism Awards were handed out.
Conservation Through Tourism
The WRTP kicked off on the Tuesday with a seminar about responsible tourism initiatives that are making a contribution to the conservation of the bio-diverse ecosystems in their regions. Guest speaker Andrés Ordóñez León, General Manager of Kapawi Ecolodge in Ecuador, told an incredible story about how his ecolodge has been an organising force in protecting the surrounding Amazon forest from logging and oil companies. It was an intelligent presentation about a successful conservation initiative that has also been instrumental in preserving local culture and providing sustainable livelihoods for the local community.
The Debate over Green Certification
The seminar series continued with a comprehensive debate that addressed how tourism operators use ethical labels such as ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ for communication and marketing purposes. The seminar covered green certification schemes, their proponents and their critics.
Representatives from three successful certification schemes made the case for green certification. Nikki White of Travelife sees green certification as “a start for change” and “a carrot rather than a stick,” giving businesses a positive incentive to work toward meeting sustainability criteria. Brad Cox, Director of Communications at Green Globe Certification, explained his company’s services as “offering a sustainability road map” for tourism businesses. Andrea Nicholas, Managing Director of Green Tourism Business Scheme, discussed her programme’s sustainability criteria for accommodation in the UK.
On the more critical side was debate moderator Harold Goodwin, Professor of Responsible Tourism Management at the International Centre for Responsible Tourism at Leeds Metropolitan University. He and the audience raised tough questions about green certification systems: Are they viable as business models or do they tend to rely on outside funding that eventually runs out? Can incentive-based certification really take the place of legal regulation? What about carbon emissions from air travel? Does that not threaten the whole idea of tourism sustainability? Or can carbon offsets neutralise the damage? Are international standards an important goal for green certification of tourism?
These are all important questions for tourism businesses looking for ways to hold themselves accountable for their impact and to communicate their commitment to the global market.
Tourism Businesses and Climate Change
The major events of the WRTP were held on Wednesday, the official World Responsible Tourism Day. In the afternoon, BBC World News televised a panel discussion about tourism businesses and climate change in which the industry’s heavy use of water and fossil fuels was addressed. BBC journalist Stephen Sackur talked to key figures such as Steven Farrant, Director of International Tourism Partnership, about the issues. Again, the audience contributed questions to the discussion, one of the most memorable being “What are each of you doing, at home on a personal level, to reduce your carbon emissions?”
Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2010
A highlight of the WRTP was the announcement of the Responsible Tourism Award winners for 2010, also on Wednesday. The awards, which began in 2005, are an initiative between online travel directory responsibletravel.com and Virgin Holidays. The overall winner this year was a small luxury resort in Indonesia called Nihiwatu, which impressed judges with its progress in alleviating poverty in its community. Other awards were given for, among others, Best Personal Contribution, Best Destination, Best in a Mountain Environment, Best Tour Operator for Local Economies, Best Responsible Cruise or Ferry Operator, Best Volunteering Organisation, Best Accommodation for the Environment, Best in a Marine Environment, and Best for Poverty Reduction.