Responsible and sustainable tourism are not the same thing

Responsible and sustainable tourism – are not the same concept

Responsible tourism in actionThere are some important differences between responsible and sustainable tourism.  To understand them we need to go back to some of the lessons learnt from their forerunner, ecotourism.

The much quoted ‘leave only footprints, take only photographs’ mantra of nature based eco tourism had three major flaws. Firstly, local communities felt strongly that tourists visiting their homes and environments should leave behind more than footprints. In short, tourism must benefit local communities as well as nature conservation.

Secondly, all type of tourism – not just nature based – could and should be more responsible.  Finally, the ecotourism concept was easily green-washed because so little emphasis was put on measurable and demonstrable results.

Responsible tourism emerged in response to this, and in the wider context of the sustainable development movement. Responsible tourism is about ‘creating better places for people to live in and better places for people to visit.’ In that order; unlike early ecotourism it places local people at its heart.

We’ve seen past winners of The Responsible Tourism Awards come from all sectors of tourism – niche, mainstream, cultural and nature based. That all forms of tourism (not just nature tourism) should and could become more responsible is essential if we are to create the change we need.

Responsible tourism differs from sustainable tourism in several important ways.  Despite important benefits to communities and conservation globally, responsible tourism, especially when it involves flying and associated CO2 emissions, does not and cannot claim to be truly sustainable.

Sustainable tourism approaches tend to involve attempts to tackle long lists of social, economic and environmental impacts.  Responsible tourism does not.   Responsible tourism recognises that (apart from climate change, which is a global issue) the impacts of tourism are very different in different places, and that some impacts are always more important than others.

For example, in Sub Saharan Africa water conservation is a big issue, in Wales it’s not.  Switzerland does not need to concern itself with poverty reduction as a priority, Peru does.  The issues are different everywhere, and the solutions must be too.  Furthermore, the 80/20 rule is true in tourism too – and it’s always far better to focus a few big and locally relevant issues than global criteria.

Finally, and most importantly, responsible tourism is about everyone involved in tourism (including the tourist) accepting and taking responsibility for their impacts and doing something about it.   It’s not enough to perform lots of actions if there is no measurable result.  It’s not enough to have good intentions and make a little progress (as many sustainable tourism certification schemes reward) if the progress does not, and can never match the scale of the problems.

Responsible tourism is a local movement, being developed by different people in different ways around the world based on different local issues.  It embraces all type of tourism, and is focussed on results not actions. That’s why it’s working and flourishing.

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Date / Fecha: 07/01/13

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