The aspiration is to make tourism better, but whose responsibility is it?
Back in 2002, in the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations, we were focused on destinations, the places we love to visit, because it is in destinations that tourism happens, where visitors and residents interact, litter is dropped, natural resources are used up and local people may feel crowded out of their place by tourists, outsiders. The Tourism Concern campaign slogan nailed it. “We take our holidays in their homes.” Climate change has pushed aviation, cruising and transport to the top of the agenda, as we recognize the damage done to our climate by greenhouse gas emissions. However, the other issues remain, and the lull in tourism numbers during the pandemic has reminded us of what it was like without mass tourism. There has been a lot of talk about building back better, making tourism better.
In Cape Town in 2002, we talked of the importance of “all stakeholders taking responsibility for creating better forms of tourism”, the problem is obvious, as it is with climate change, if it is everybody’s responsibility, it can quickly become nobody’s. We called for “a more balanced relationship between hosts and guests in destinations” and recognised that this could only be achieved by local government, communities and businesses “cooperating on practical initiatives in destinations.”
Most of us aspire to be treated as guests when we travel, although often we lack awareness of how guests behave in our world’s diverse cultures and a fair number of us, in pursuit of hedonistic excess or out of ignorance, think we have bought the place for the price of an air ticket and a hotel room. Too often, tourists fail to behave as guests should, at least sometimes because they don’t know better.
The pain of tourism is felt in public spaces where residents, hosts, and guests rub up against each other, and there may be friction. I remember working in Slovenia on a Heritage Trail development project, looking down on a beautiful tranquil river as a screaming group of tourists shooting the rapids in a rib hove into sight. We heard them coming, and then we saw them, changing, spoiling, the whole sense of place. A form of pollution. One of the challenges in destination marketing is attracting tourists and day visitors who will “fit in” with the local communities and other tourists. Who do you want in your place?
Destinations, businesses, governments and local communities have to take some responsibility for who they attract, the marketing has many of the characteristics of an invitation; destinations are not powerless. The way a place is marketed and demarketed shapes the destination. Tourism results from the activities of producers, businesses and communities, consumers, the visitors, and the governments and national park authorities who set the rules within which the interactions occur. The behaviour of tourists is a part of the problem of making tourism better. Those travellers looking for a boozy stag party with a visit to the red light district, will not come if what they are looking for.
On World Tourism Day the national government of India launched a ‘Responsible Traveller Guideline’, backed by celebrity videos. In Kerala and now in Madhya Pradesh, state governments have been shaping tourism to ensure that the livelihoods of local communities benefit through respectful Village Life Experiences – a genuine host-guest experience. The Responsible Tourism agenda requires that all stakeholders work together, as producers and consumers, to make tourism better.