Written by Serina Rahman on 12 Jul 2005 with 0 comments. Be the first!
Tourism has changed over time, reflecting the issues facing a modern, globalised world. In many industries, the trinity of economy, community and environment has been heralded as the guide to a new way of management, and it is no different where tourism is concerned.
At its most basic, responsible tourism is all about protecting the goose that lays the golden egg. It is basically good management of tourism operations and products: ensuring that the "goods" of tourism, whether it is the natural habitat, wildlife, or local culture, are protected in the long term. This ensures that tourism continues to bring benefits in the future - to local communities, the environment and tourism businesses.
There are a number of tour operators who have been striving for these ideals long before the phrase was even coined. Most of these are home-grown community initiatives that embrace much of the spirit of responsible tourism. Their work brings direct economic benefits to the community by being community owned and run by locals with an intimate knowledge of the culture and natural history of an area, and they understand the need to protect the natural assets that lure tourists to their area.
It is about protecting livelihoods, as much as it is about protecting the environment. However, these ideals need to trickle up to larger, non-local community managed businesses.
How does it work?
The ultimate goal of responsible tourism is to boost business growth by increasing economic stability, nurturing good relationships with local communities, and ensuring the long-term appeal and sustainability of the environment. It needs to begin with a process of self-assessment on the part of tourism operators to examine how their business benefits local communities and the environment by providing positive social, economic, and environmental impacts.
Responsible tourism is a long term tourism management process, so the next steps are for the operator to set realistic goals to improve these three aspects, plan their implementation and monitor their progress.
Contributing to the local economy
Economically, the responsible tourism operator should be committed to minimising the revenue that "leaks" out of the local area. This means employing local people, purchasing locally where available, promoting local businesses, and nurturing local business relationships. This will help create local employment, stimulate local entrepreneurial activity, increase local infrastructure investment and boost the overall standard of living in the area.
Operators should also use responsible tourism to raise awareness by sharing their methods and aims with clients, staff, and the local community. This will initiate a positive cycle that benefits operators, tourists, the environment and the wider community as a whole. Local communities who have a vested interest in the tourism in their region will see the benefits to their community and will seek to sustain and support it.
Respecting cultures and investing in social capital
Social responsibility means that operators are committed to respecting local cultures, preventing negative effects on social structures and conserving cultural heritage. Besides these, they should encourage local awareness and involvement in tourism, improve local development and education, promote equality, and educate their clients on local cultures and how to respect them.
While tourism can improve local living standards, uncontrolled development can destabilise whole communities. Tourism operators need to be sensitive to potential impacts, such as loss of privacy of locals, prevention of their access to culturally significant places or natural resources, invasion of sacred sites or the demeaning of cultural ceremonies.
Trust and mutual cooperation can be built between tourism operators and the local communities if genuine cooperative structures involving local people in planning and decision making are set up. Operators can provide support through education and health care and by contributing to social infrastructure. This would help to promote goodwill and improves local quality of life, ultimately leading to mutual benefits for all.
The environmental responsibility of an operator means that he is committed to the conservation of biodiversity and natural heritage, the responsible use of natural resources and the prevention of pollution and waste.
Tourism developments worldwide have had a substantial impact on the natural world. From the visual impact of hotel and resort complexes to noise and air pollution from increased traffic, contamination of water supplies and the loss of natural habitats and species, tourism has unfortunately played a role in destroying the natural environment.
Tourism establishments that fail to protect their surroundings impact the very attractions on which most depend on for success - clean air, safe water and beautiful surroundings. Nature-based tourism operations have a particular responsibility towards their natural environment in terms of ensuring ecologically sensitive land and habitat management and conserving biodiversity.
Sound waste management and water treatment creates a safer environment for staff and local communities, reducing illness and disease and enhances quality of life. A side benefit to the operator is that good environmental practice translates into direct cost savings to the operator by reducing energy and water bills as well as sewage treatment and waste disposal costs. In terms of the bottom line, good environmental practice makes perfect economic sense.
The three principles outlined above are the basis of responsible tourism. They are concepts that can act as guides to measure and realise the goals of responsible tourism and can be adapted to suit the needs of all tourism operators. However, it is a long-term process of learning and change as all parties, operators, locals and travelers alike, learn more about the impact of tourism and the problems local communities and environments face.
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Serina lived in various countries as a child but returned to Singapore at 16 to finish school and start work. Although trained in Business Marketing, she took a detour to teach English and complete a Masters in Applied Linguistics in Cardiff, Wales. She then moved on to manage program content for Di... more inside »
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