Slow Down and Go Local: Responsible Tourism Week 2012 – February 13-19

  • Ethan Gelber
  • 9 February 2012

It’s back! And it is expected to be better than ever. The fourth annual Responsible Tourism Week is scheduled to run from February 13 to 19, 2012. Hosted by Planeta.com, it is touted as “a free unconference exploring down-to-earth applications of noble concepts including responsible tourism, conscious travel, the local travel movement and ecotourism with effective and inexpensive social media and local events.”

Responsible Tourism Week 2012

That needs a bit of parsing, I think, so, beyond looking at what has been accomplished in previous years by this unconventional but inspiring global get-together, let’s examine a few of the operative keywords in the citation above – free, down-to-earth, local and unconference.

It’s Free!

Yes, it really is. There’s absolutely no cost to getting involved.

It’s Down-to-Earth

To explain, let’s use the words of Ron Mader, Founder of Planeta and the vital motor behind Responsible Tourism Week:

“Frankly, I don’t think SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) enjoy a level playing field. It’s difficult to find the mom-and-pop hotels and restaurants or individual guides on official tourism portals. These local players are infrequent attendees at the major trade shows. Yet the SMEs are the powerhouse of products and services espoused by local tourism movements. Are city and national governments responding to their voices? I rarely see this.”

Planeta's buzzword bingo compilation

A bit of jargon: What Ron Mader of Planeta.com likes to call buzzword bingo. Image courtesy of Planeta.com

In other words, despite their staggering scope, large travel shows and conferences, academic symposia and scholarly forums rarely (if ever) meet the needs of a modest local tourism stakeholders labouring each day to make ends meet. Or to a consumer in search of meaningful travel experiences. Neither of these people necessarily sees the utility in debates burdened by baffling jargon and high-brow concepts.

Nor should they need to. They’re guided principally by their senses and their passions. And so there is a practical alternative for them: Responsible Tourism Week.

“Simply put, this online unconference is an excellent way to broaden and deepen our dialogue about sustainable practice and tourism,” writes Mader. “Responsible Tourism Week encourages participants to articulate their core values and to put noble ideas into practice. We spotlight living, breathing examples of responsible tourism.”

It’s About Slowing Down and Going Local

Given how noble the concepts of responsible tourism, conscious travel, local travel and ecotourism are, Responsible Tourism Week is a learning opportunity anchored in best practices.

“If you are passionate and curious about responsible tourism,” says the central RT Week wiki, “Responsible Tourism Week lets you ask questions and share lessons learned. It’s a catalyst for many to get up to speed on off-the-shelf social media.” It’s also a nudge for the digitally hardwired to step away from the screen and out into the sun.

On the one hand, RT Week encourages participants to get on the ‘curation‘ bandwagon. “Participants are asked to learn how curation works and then to announce their creations on our Facebook and LinkedIn pages and tweeting using the #rtweek2012 hashtag.” New this year are 30-minute zipcasts that will help people get oriented, while the Flickr account is an old and excellent standby.

On the other hand, RT Week calls on everyone to slow down, get lost and go local. “This is the week where you get to shout out to the world the good things you see around you. Lead the way or follow the topics for which you have interest and passion.” You are encouraged to talk about food, parks, museums, volunteering, slow travel and local travel. This can involve taking a walk with neighbours and visitors, seeking out and supporting local events, or organising your own – a local Photosafari, a Green drinks or a carrotmob.

It’s an Unconference

“The format of RT Week is different: there is no agenda,” says Mader. “This is an unconference. Yes, there are suggested focal points, but no specific timeline of what happens when. Participants set the agenda and interact with each other during the week. If there is face-to-face communication online it will be through recorded skype chats (or similar). Instead of a single information centre, we invite participants to use a bevy of Web 2.0 channels including blogs, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube and Wikis.”

For travellers, it’s an opportunity to see where to go, how to travel and who to meet. For local tourism leaders and travel businesses, it’s a chance to broadcast word of programs and product, as well as an occasion to learn good practices from around the globe. Given the abundance of new and informative positive stories, it’s even rich pickings for journalists, authors and other media mavens.

“Responsible Tourism Week’s success lies in how well we motivate participants to write their own essays, take their own photos, shoot their own videos and share them with the world,” concludes Mader. “I believe we are ready for a broad, deep, healthy discussion and, to paraphrase Transitions Abroad, it’s all about how to make travel better for a better world.”

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Ethan Gelber

In addition to his freelance travel writing (Lonely Planet author, ex-AFAR Ambassador, Huffington Post Travel blogger and more), Ethan has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, family travel, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. Among many other things, Ethan is editorial director of the Family Travel Association, a co-founder of OutBounding, and tackles content projects for HomeExchange.com and RW Social, which produces the NY Trav Fest. Previously, Ethan was Chief Communications Officer of the WHL Group, for which he founded and edited The Travel Word (this now-independent blog); publications manager of the French government tourist office (Atout France) in NYC; and helped manage a Paris-based bicycle tour operator.
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