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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Responsible Tourism is here to Stay!

I woke up one morning, in a tent, to the sound of birds chirping. Adapting to my surroundings, I slowly became conscious of where I was. I opened the tent door, stepped outside and thought: “Wow! This is why I am here”. I was on Tiwai Island, a place of significant biodiversity, located on the Moa River, in the middle of the Gola Rainforest, in Eastern Sierra Leone. I had decided to visit the island on my trip of research and discovery in a country renowned for a brutal civil war and child soldiers. Those images couldn’t be further from the truth.I was travelling by local transport from tourism project to tourism project, assessing the level of responsible tourism principles that had been implemented within the current activities, or failing that, the potential for implementing responsible tourism ethics within already established tourism ventures.

You can read more about this journey of discovery here, but I think that responsible tourism needs explaining first.

So, what is responsible tourism? It can be summed up with this quote from Prof. Harold Goodwin, founder of the International Centre of Responsible Tourism, on the occasion of the drafting of the Cape Town Declaration (2002) on responsible tourism in destinations: “Responsible tourism aims to make destinations better places to live in, and better places to visit”.

Responsible tourism also aims to:
  • Increase the benefits that tourism can have on a destination whilst making sure to reduce the negative impacts associated with mass tourism.
  • Offer authentic and unique experiences to the tourist, whilst taking into account the social, economic and environmental elements of a destination.
  • Highlight the fact that local communities are hosts, not tourist attractions; and that the environment is an important element of the overall experience rather than being a playground for the planet's privileged.
  • Make common sense the principal driver for change; and that disrespect and injustice, the colonial perspective, must become obsolete. “Treat people the way you want to be treated” is the ethic behind the idea.
This type of tourism, this movement, this ‘new’ (not so new in the grand scheme of things) way of thinking is growing. The idea that tourism can be used as a tool for poverty alleviation, for peace, for the understanding of new cultures (whether from a hosts perspective or that of the visitor) is slowly taking over the ‘mass tourism’, only for profit, generic model.

Responsible tourism may be considered a niche by critics, a ‘fad’ that will fade with time, but it is far from it. Responsible tourism guiding principles can be applied to all forms of tourism that cater for all age-groups, all markets, in all destinations. It is here to stay!

To learn more about responsibility and responsible tourism, here are a few resources:

Or for more information contact me at thomas@westafricadiscovery.co.uk or follow me on twitter or Facebook.

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