Last week I wrote about the Global Award winners, but we recognised many more in India and the Rest of the World. The Awards are growing in prestige and reach. Next year we shall add a Far East regional award, centred on China, and possibly a European regional award.With the WTM family of Responsible Tourism Awards now including regional programmes in Africa, India, Latin America and the Rest of the World and Global Awards chosen by an international panel of judges from amongst the regional Gold Awards, the programme has come of age.
Last week we presented the Global Awards at WTM London and four of the six taken by India, an extraordinary concentration in the sub-continent. The importance of responsibility in tourism has been recognised since the nineteen sixties; after all, tourism is an entirely social activity. It is what we, as producers and consumers of tourism, make it. This is best captured in the aphorism often heard in Asia: tourism is like a fire, you can cook your food on it, or it can burn your house down. In Europe, many in the tourism hotspots have complained of overtourism experienced by residents and visitors, hosts and guests, as the destruction of their sense of place. A metaphorical burning.
The contemporary Responsible Tourism movement arose from efforts in South Africa, predominantly a destination, and the UK as a source market to explicitly recognise the impacts of tourism, good and bad, and enhance the positive while reducing the negative. The Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations summarised the ambition of those present “to take responsibility for achieving sustainable tourism, and to create better places for people to live in and for people to visit.” The Cape Town conference was an official side-event to the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. It was already clear that too often sustainably was asserted when there was little substance, often no substance. We sought to counter the greenwashing by challenging businesses and destinations to define the issues that arose when and where guests and hosts met. To identify those that could be addressed through tourism, to take responsibility and act and to transparently report both the activity of taking responsibility and the impacts.
In 2004 the Responsible Tourism Awards were launched to recognise those taking responsibility to make tourism better and encourage others to replicate practices that make tourism better. We have recognised hundreds of businesses and destinations that have tried and tested ways to increase tourism’s positive impact and reduce the negative ones. These “tried and tested” means are showcased on the WTM’s Platform for Change, being built over the next year to be the centrepiece of WTM London in 2022, twenty years from the Cape Town Declaration.
Initially, South Africa was the leading destination for Responsible Tourism and there are still many excellent examples there. In 2008 Kerala invited us to hold the second International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations in Kochi (Cochin). The state was already experimenting with Responsible Tourism but wanted to learn from international experience. Over 500 Indian and foreign delegates and 61 speakers from over 29 countries attended the Conference. It assisted Kerala in establishing Responsible Tourism as its tourism strategy at the state and local level. Other states and many businesses across the sub-continent are now adopting Responsible Tourism, in no small part inspired by the success of the Responsible Tourism approaches, many piloted in and proven in Kerala. India is sure to be prominent at WTM London in November 2022 when we look back over twenty years of the movement.
You can find details of all those recognised this year, and the judges’ reasons.