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Monday, 16 November 2009

WTM 2009: small-scale Responsible/Sustainable Tourism projects get the upper hand

The WTM in London has traditionally been an event where the established players of the tourism industry market and sell their products and services. But at the 2009 event last week, from a small-scale start-up point of view, I felt that this event was equally about meeting new and inspiring ventures that aim to promote travel that follows the policies outlined in the Cape Town, Kerala and the newly published Belize Declarations on Responsible Tourism in destinations.

My week started on the Monday evening before the big event. Having cycled 45 minutes from Battersea to Bank, and getting lost in the process, but experiencing the wonderful night views of the Thames, I arrived in a fully packed and to say the least noisy basement bar where the Fringe Network event was in full swing. Small-scale tour operators from around the world who advocate Responsible Tourism practices were chatting away, bouncing ideas off one another and generally having a good time.

The atmosphere was positive and the Tripbod team who organised the event seemed genuinely elated and a little bit surprised about the great turnout. After a warm welcome from Sally (Tripbod) and Gopi (The Blue Yonder), representatives from Rough Guides, Intrepid and Travel to Care were on hand with motivating and inspiring speeches. This was followed by a very quick 'speed networking' session, which I abused by going through 3 whistles without changing 'date', and the scene was set for a great WTM 2009 at the ExCel event venue in London Docklands... after I managed to find my way back home on my bike.

Needless to say, I kept bumping in to my newly found 'Fringe friends' at the WTM event, and throughout the three days, thoughts, ideas, tips and business cards were exchanged. It made me realise that I am not alone in my small-scale quest for the development of Responsible Tourism, and that I am actually part of a community which is willing to help, support, encourage and inspire the members towards their common goals.

The World Responsible Tourism Day was another highlight when it comes to small to medium scale Responsible/Sustainable Tourism projects. At the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism awards, there was a big emphasis on projects which had come a long way and had made a significant positive impact in the destinations where they are operating. And the big names from the tourism industry that were present at the WRTD may have learnt a thing or two about the positive impacts that can come from managing a tourism project in a responsible way.

Another event which showed that the small-scale Responsible Tourism projects were getting much more coverage than previously was the launching of the Green Circuit, a collaboration of Indian sub-continent based tour operators which came together to promote Responsible Tourism development, by none other than the WTM chairwoman Fiona Jeffrey.

The WTM was also a good opportunity for small-scale tourism businesses to get free advice which would otherwise not be affordable when starting up. In the afternoon of Thursday 12th November, free advice clinics were carried out for those who had previously registered when receiving the WTM newsletter in the weeks before the main event.

The above examples show that in the apparent economic crisis, the small scale Responsible/Sustainable Tourism ventures can find opportunities and growth in an environment where the big cheeses of the tourism industry rule. But such a feat cannot be achieved alone. The key to success seems to be the sense of community shown between projects, the same sense of community which these projects are trying to promote through their tours.

Visit www.westafricadiscovery.com for more information.

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