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Responsible Tourism

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The Contribution of Responsible Tourism

  • minimises negative economic, environmental, and social impacts;
  • generates greater economic benefits for local people and enhances the well-being of host communities, improves working conditions and access to the industry;
  • involves local people in decisions that affect their lives and life chances;
  • makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the maintenance of the world’s diversity;
  • provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues;
  • provides access for physically challenged people; and
  • is culturally sensitive, engenders respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence

Taking Responsibility for Tourism

responsible tourismResponsible Tourism is about making “better places for people to live, and better places for people to visit” – the order of these two aspirations is critical. The characteristics of RT as defined in the Cape Town Declaration are very generic; it is for destinations and enterprises to determine their priorities in the light of the environmental and socio-cultural characteristics of the destination. Diversity, transparency and respect are core values.

All forms of tourism can be more responsible. Progress relies on “all stakeholders taking responsibility for creating better forms of tourism and realising these aspirations.” Responsible Tourism relishes “the diversity of our world’s cultures, habitats and species and the wealth of our cultural and natural heritage” and therefore accepts “that responsible and sustainable tourism will be achieved in different ways in different places.” One policy or set of criteria will not apply everywhere – nor should they. The Declaration emphasises that it is only at the local level, where tourists and locals interact, that tourism can be sustainably managed.

The Declaration called on “planning authorities, tourism businesses, tourists and local communities – to take responsibility for achieving sustainable tourism.” Individuals in tourism businesses can make a big difference, but there is also a major role for government, particularly in destinations. Local and national governments need to shoulder their responsibilities: progress requires joined up government (UK) or a whole of government approach (South Africa). The language differs, but the imperative is the same: tourism can only be managed in destinations when the different agencies work together. The Cape Town Declaration recognised the importance of “transparent and auditable reporting of progress” and that benchmarking is essential to assess progress and to facilitate consumer choice. No simple label can serve this purpose.

In the next phase of RT development, we are likely to see more countries and destinations developing policies and implementation strategies and the development of RT audits of tour operations. The annual Responsible Tourism Awards (sponsored by Virgin Holidays, the Daily Telegraph and Geographical magazine and announced on World Responsible Tourism Day at World Travel Market each November) demonstrate the diversity and strength of the movement, but its very success has encouraged some unscrupulous companies to adopt the language but omit the practise.

Responsible tourism has become a movement. It’s broad and diverse; there’s a vanguard; there are laggards and hangers on; there’s now a “fringe” event each year at WTM on the night before World Responsible Tourism Day. The movement remains relatively transparent, and there is debate and a ratchet effect as expectations rise – entries which won in 2004 wouldn’t make the short list in 2009. But for the movement to continue to achieve change, we need rebellious tourists and rebellious locals, we need activists in destinations and tourism enterprises, and we need travellers and holidaymakers to hold the operators and accommodation providers to account. If a consumer is dissatisfied with the sustainable credentials of a property which relies on one of the ecolabels for its credibility, there’s little that they can do – they have no contract with the label provider and therefore no redress. The explicit RT claims made by the operator or accommodation provider are part of the contract and redress can be sought.

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What does it mean, to take responsibility?

Responsible Tourism

There are two ways of thinking about responsibility. They are interdependent, but politically they are different. One strand can be characterised as accountability. Actions and consequences, can be attributed to individuals or legal entities , who can be held accountable, and legally they are liable. Revealing the consequences of actions or inactions can also be used to raise awareness and elicit a response. Responsibility can be given in a rather limited legal sense, but the ICRT is more focussed on encouraging individuals to take responsibility – it is individuals who make the difference, individuals change the world.

This second strand is active. It is about responding to a perceived need. The work of the ICRT is predicated on respons-ability, focussed on enabling individuals to respond and to make a difference. This requires partnerships, a plurality of relationships, learning, praxis, and critical reflection . The ICRT recruits students who are mid-career, who’ve had some experience of work and are looking to make change in the world. Our students have empathy, they have a strong sense of the “other”, they’ve travelled and they’ve seen the impacts of tourism in destination communities. They recognise interdependence and the responsibility which flows from that. They have the impetus to responsibility, they have or seek roles where they can exert agency. They require what Aristotle called phronesis, the ability to determine ends and to act in particular contexts. This requires prudence and a degree of maturity.

The ICRT leads a very public existence: our students arrive committed to RT and wanting to make a difference. They have shared aspirations and value sets around taking responsibility for the triple-bottom line sustainability of tourism. Many of them will have spoken with one of our alumni or met us through a conference or consultancy; they will have read the Cape Town Declaration. They join us with high expectations that they will acquire the knowledge and skills to make a difference, they know that they should because they can. Opportunity imposes responsibility. They seek really useful knowledge; they want to be equipped, enabled, to respond.

It’s difficult to predict which of our alumni will make the biggest contribution in the real world – there is certainly no easy correlation with grades. To make change is to run a marathon, it’s not a sprint. Stamina and perseverance, resilience, self-criticism, and the willingness after failure to try again, are essential. As Gramsci cautioned and demanded, “Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will”.

The ICRT is about change. It is committed. It is for RT. There’s a shared commitment to the principles of the Cape Town Declaration – when alumni meet they have a lot in common. The alumni and current students, who will become alumni, share a broad commitment to using tourism to “create better places for people to live in, and better places for people to visit.” There’s plenty of debate about ends and means – and the relationship between them, but there is also a shared acceptance of the responsibility, and willingness to act, to make at least a small part of the world a better place. The curriculum reflects this with a unit on Securing Change and a recurring focus on the application and generation of knowledge.

It’s not enough simply to understand – it’s also important to take responsibility and to act. Very few of our alumni pursue academic careers – they work in the industry, in local government, in conservation or archaeology, for consultancies, for newspapers and development banks, for UN agencies, alongside communities. They make a difference . The alumni are our most powerful recruitment mechanism. They are part of our approach to life long learning, through the network and by coming along to our conferences and alumni evenings held in London. The annual reunion on World Responsible Tourism Day brings together 70+ alumni, current students, associates and colleagues. When the mergers took place last year and TUI and Thomas Cook both established RT teams; we had, and still have, students in both teams working to advance the agenda.

In the class of 2001 the group decided that there needed to be a market place for RT, an awards programme and a Foundation. All three now exist, and more besides. was launched in 2001, co-founded by myself and Justin Francis, a member of that class, although I sold my interest some years ago. prospers as the world’s largest on line travel agency for responsible holidays. The 21st century equivalent of Fish Street, it employs a number of our alumni and has enabled the growth of many small businesses.

We hope you join us in our journey of taking responsibility for a more sustainable tourism.

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Advances and benefits of responsible tourism

Responsible Tourism


We are often asked by small businesses practicing Responsible Tourism how they can best market their experience and service. It is easy to expend a great deal of time and money – both of which are in short supply in small businesses – on marketing which produces no return. It is easy to make a loss on marketing. This is the advice we give.



  1. There is rarely any point in travelling to the originating market or to large trade shows to try to sell your product. Consider selling through an established online agent in the originating market you are interested in – for some examples see link. Check out with businesses already on the site how well it works for them, and ask why. Businesses using the agent or site will have considerable expertise in how to use that channel to market, they may be willing to share it. Generally if you are selling accommodation to people travelling on pre-planned itineraries or you are selling trips you will need to get clients to pre-book.
  2. For most small businesses in travel and tourism the market is nearby in the destination, local marketing is what pays off, particularly where you are selling to travellers who are deciding day to day where they are going and staying and what they are doing. Look for businesses which might cross-market with you – where your product complements and adds to what they are selling. Look for opportunities with other businesses where you are non-competitive, where there are marketing synergies, where together you would be stronger than you are separately . Consider marketing through a destination portal link Consider setting up a local marketing portal or network.
  3. Consider using awards to raise awareness of your business and gain media coverage. There is a list of awards on the Advances in Responsible Tourism Forum link If you know of others please add them. Think about which awards matter to you – where is your originating market?
  4. Cultivate local, national and international media – PR and stories are valuable in providing corroboration for your marketing efforts and for ensuring that potential clients know you are there.
  5. Use the various forums available on line to draw attention to yourself – use Advances in Responsible Tourism look up Responsible Tourism on Twitter, Facebook and Ning. More important get your clients to write about you on Trip Advisor and similar sites. Put a facility on your website for client feedback and encourage people to tell their friends.
  6. Guidebook writers are always looking for good new products and experiences to include. Write to the editors of the guide books which are important in your destination and which are read by the clients you want to attract. The editor will pass the letter on to the person next revising the guide book. Many small businesses have taken off this way. Lonely Planet and Rough Guides both have online communities which can be used to get you noticed.
  7. Where you are wanting to attract tourists who are travelling consider visiting on a reciprocal basis similar businesses on the route – their recommendations can be invaluable – but of course this kind of marketing has to be reciprocated.

There is often a reluctance to co-operate with others to market but co-opetition is invaluable. Work together to grow the cake by developing complementary products and cross-marketing.

If you have other suggestions which you would like to share please send them to us.


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