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Saturday, 17 April 2010

Is education the key to reducing ‘irresponsible' tourism?

Having read a recent article in the Associated Press about the lack of knowledge that travellers between 18 to 30 have about the World, I asked myself: is this ‘responsible’? Shouldn’t they know about the destinations they are going to visit? In my view, education before departure nurtures a sense of respect and responsibility towards a countries people and heritage and can have a substantial effect on minimising the negative effects of tourism.

There are many reasons why young people want to travel; to escape from their daily routine, flee from their household to acquire independence or to take a break to decide whether they want to go to university or to work; but do they consider their impact on local populations in destinations? I am sure a lot of them do, but there are also a lot who definitely don’t.

I would like to illustrate a simple example of ‘irresponsible tourism’ from when I was in Banjul, the Gambia. I remember, whilst travelling through the country from Northern Senegal to Casamance in the South, being at a beach bar on the tourist stretch near Banjul and hearing a group of young British people shouting abuse at the waiters in a very derogatory way. This really offended me and also made me embarrassed of being of the same nationality as these ‘irresponsible tourists’.

The negative impacts of tourism are very present and are much easier to quantify than the positive ones due to the sheer number of cases and the rapidity of negative influence, however, the positive effects of tourism are very possible. As a result of the increased focus on ethical consumerism, specifically that of sustainable and responsible tourism, more and more stories are surfacing on the benefits tourism can have on local communities in impoverished rural areas of the world, if managed efficiently.

For example, in the Gambia, a movement of sustainable and responsible tourism projects has been increasing for the past 10 years and, as a result, an organisation called the Association of Small Scale Enterprises in Tourism (ASSET – Gambia) has been created to efficiently manage a network of community-based tourism activities which allows the money spent by the tourist to be distributed amongst the local communities in the area. Benefits such as a boosted local economy, sustainable community development schemes, environmental protection initiatives, empowerment of local individuals, entrepreneurship opportunities, cultural pride and historical preservation, amongst others, are starting to be felt by the local communities in the areas operated in such as Kartong and Gunjur.

The International Centre for Responsible Tourism (ICRT) has been successful over the past 10 years in creating a buzz around the term ‘Responsible Tourism’. They have organised events such as the Cape Town (2002), Kerala (2008) and Belize (2009) International Responsible Tourism Conferences which resulted in the drafting of declarations outlining policies and guidelines for the development and management of Responsible Tourism in destinations. These events have inspired many governments around the world to change their tourism policies to implement more ‘responsible and sustainable’ practices.

Now, slowly but surely, tourism practices which not only focus on providing an unforgettable and unique experiences for tourists, but also emphasise on maximising benefits for local communities and environments whilst minimising the negative effects of tourism, are being implemented by tour operators and other tourism projects all around the world. The best part about this is that most of these are small to medium and locally based companies who have a link to the local communities in the destination, therefore focussing on a solely locally produced product, developed by, managed by and involving local people.

Obviously, there are stories of ‘green-washing’ and ‘false-advertising’ using the ethical terminology to attract tourists, however there are also those genuine projects that do work towards these positive outcomes.

For these positive outcomes to be felt, not only do travellers who decide to undertake a ‘journey of a lifetime’ need to consider reading up more on the destinations they plan to visit, but government bodies, tourism professionals, local organisations and communities also need to realise that tourism can be much more beneficial to their country if managed in an efficient and sustainable way. Not only would sustained local economies be created in communities in rural areas, providing these with sustainable development opportunities, but they would also attract more tourists thanks to unique experiences coupled with the promise of an ethically managed holiday.

For more information on the ‘Responsible Tourism’ concept and suggested practices, click here.

You can also contact us at info@westafricadiscovery.co.uk


sallie said...

Thanks for this Thomas - just one thing to add. We responsible tourism organisations - need to remember - yes we need to educate - but this is peoples' holidays! They need to be fun....so we need to ensure that we have put the responsible practices in place and travellers can see that they can be responsible and still have fun! Sometinmes I worry that we in the rt movement get a bit holier than thou and forget that people have saved hard for their holidays and want to chill - responsibly we hope but still chill!

Thomas Armitt said...

Hi Sallie, you are so right about that. The tourists needs also are very important and they should not be forgotten because one concentrates too much on the 'responsible' aspect of the holiday. The idea is to make the holiday unique and unforgettable for the tourist(for the right reasons)through activities which stimulate their senses but do not overload them and allows them to 'chill'. It is also important to have a model in place which not only means that the local community in the destination benefits in a sustainable way from the activities, but also respects the local heritage.