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Responsible Tourism Week 2011: February 14-18, 2011

  • Ethan Gelber
  • 9 February 2011

If the third time’s a charm, then the annual Responsible Tourism Week, taking place online from February 14 to 18, will be even more inspiring than the last two.

Billed as an unconventional, online unconference, it is a fun mash-up exploring down-to-earth applications of noble concepts including responsible tourism, the Local Travel Movement and ecotourism with practical and inexpensive Web 2.0 technologies. (Take a look at what was accomplished in 2010.)

Responsible Tourism Week 2011 logo

“Simply put, this online event is an excellent way to broaden and deepen our dialogue about sustainable practice and tourism,” writes Ron Mader, Founder of Planeta and the driving force behind Responsible Tourism Week. “It encourages participants to articulate their core values and the way they put noble ideas into practice. We spotlight living, breathing examples of responsible tourism. RT Week provides an opportunity to introduce new events, tours and research projects as well as an opportunity to summarize recent events.”

“Frankly, I don’t think SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) enjoy a level playing field,” continued Mader, in a separate exchange about the role of Responsible Tourism week. “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.” And so there is an alternative for them: Responsible Tourism Week.

Engracia Perez Castro and her indigenous food book, Oaxaca, Mexico

Engracia Perez Castro, from Oaxaca, Mexico, has compiled an indigenous food book. Sadly, it is voices like hers that often go unheard in the debate about responsible travel. Photo courtesy of Flickr/planeta

Key Objectives

Responsible Tourism Week attempts to cover a lot of ground in a short time, but nevertheless has several key objectives.

Of special interest in 2011 is the role of responsible tourism in urban settings. “Only one city appears to take responsible travel seriously in its tourism promotion and that’s Cape Town, South Africa,” commented Mader. “It would be good to see how other cities are walking the talk of responsible travel.”

Another interest is to create incentives for continuity. The hope is that participants will share updates on recent tourism conferences and events, as well as previews of upcoming events that touch upon the core values of responsible tourism.

Next, “one of the understated components of Responsible Tourism Week is a focus on the five traditional senses,” commented Mader. “In the RT Week Slideshare presentation (see above) we ask participants to reflect on sensory-related verbs: listen, touch, see and smell, as well as drink and eat. If we wish to broaden the appeal for responsible travel, just as Len Cordiner called for in his presentation during the 2009 webinar, we ought to emphasize the sensual aspects of travel. If responsible tourism is real, we should be able to taste it!”

As an example of this, Mader reflected on how years ago in a conversation at a state tourism office, the officials ardently denied that there was any crossover between ‘adventure travel’ and ‘heritage and folk art travel.’ Curious to put that to a test, Mader asked Pedro Martinez, the founder of the oldest biking tour shop in Oaxaca (“and an incredible inspiration, who would later be awarded Planeta.com’s Colibri Ecotourism Award,” added Mader), who created the Si Mas Bicicletas Flickr Group.

Pedro Martinez, owner of Bicicletas Pedro Martinez, in Oaxaca, Mexico

Mader recently met with Pedro Martinez, owner of Bicicletas Pedro Martinez, at a local indigenous-owned and -run restaurant called Caldo de Piedra in Oaxaca, Mexico, and enjoyed a millennial dish called 'Stone Soup.' Photo courtesy of Flickr/planeta

“The answer Pedro gave then has not changed,” said Mader. “Many visitors who want to explore Oaxaca on clean energy, like two-wheeled transportation, also are keen on local food and crafts. It’s not just the visitors; Pedro doesn’t just walk the talk, he rides and eats it.

A final powerful thread tying together all aspects of Responsible Tourism Week is that it’s a great opportunity to learn about new initiatives and an even better venue for networking – collaborating with old friends and colleagues and making new contacts.

The Unconference Challenge

The response to the 2009 and 2010 Responsible Tourism Weeks was, according to Mader “a mixture of Web-nerd delight and old-fogey consternation.” Online dialogues are invariably a bit of a challenge to tourism professionals used to face-to-face discussions and a fixed program.

Cheese and mescal tasting at the Casa Bugambilias in Oaxaca, Mexico

While most of Responsible Tourism Week activity occurs online, local face-to-face get-togethers are encouraged, like this cheese and mescal tasting at the Casa Bugambilias in Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Flickr/planeta

“The format of RT Week is different: there is no agenda,” said 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.”

The genuine hope is to see some excellent case studies of responsible tourism, but “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,” concluded 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.”

Foamboards are a non-digital way of sharing news about Responsible Tourism Week

Foamboards are another non-digital way of sharing news about Responsible Tourism Week and local responsible tourism practices. Photo courtesy of Flickr/planeta

How to Participate

The event is free, but contributions are essential. Start now by preparing the messages and stories you’d like to share starting on the 14th. Particular emphasis will be given to
* photos on Flickr
* introductions and posts on the event’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages
* tweets on Twitter – follow the #rtweek2011 hashtag
* videos on YouTube
* recommended blogs and wikis.

For anyone overwhelmed by how high-tech it all sounds, there are still good old fashioned efforts, including foamboards and social events like green drinks and photosafaris.

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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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