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Responsible Tourism Development and the Global Economic Turmoil

Responsible tourism is a hot topic that sparks passionate discussions on why we should do it and those in the tourism industry have long debated on how best to do it.

Recently, Shane K Beary, CEO of Track of the Tiger T.R.D. (Tourism Resources Development) in Thailand, sent us an article on the opportunity for responsible tourism during this current economic crisis and his proposal of an alternative structure to implement responsible tourism.

What do you think of his views? Do you agree with them?

The Global Financial Crisis, Responsible Tourism Development & Tsun Tzu

“After observing the opposing army’s camp for five days, Tsun Tzu’s most reliable scout reported back to him saying – I have seen the enemy, and he is us.”

Photo: Track of the Tiger

The present global financial crisis presents the tourism industry with the perfect opportunity to transition from following the ‘slash and burn’ model it has rather blindly followed to date, to the ‘responsible tourism’ model that the world desperately needs. It will provide the industry with the fastest route back to profitability and the implementation of that change would:

1. Provide medium term employment for many of the skilled workforce recently laid off in the developed world and an opportunity to establish markets for new energy technology (ET) as well as existing products and services.

2. Provide us with the most cost effective and powerful weapon in the fight against the combined challenges of: economic uncertainty, global warming, poverty, and the rapidly increasing wealth gap.

3. Provide the platform for creating better understanding between the developed and developing world and the trade off the developing world is seeking in return for reducing carbon emissions and enforcing good environmental management.

Arguments for responsible tourism
In choosing ‘responsible tourism’ over ‘irresponsible tourism’, and in becoming RT* criteria compliant, the industry would automatically assume a new role. It would become a major provider of equitable opportunities for those who would not otherwise have enjoyed a share in the benefits tourism is supposed to bring. [Note* There are numerous organisations that provide good RT (responsible criteria) for the different categories of tourism supplier. Some, however, seem more interested in building membership than in promoting responsible tourism. A review of their criteria and existing membership will show you who they are. ]

One of the best examples of good criteria and self-monitoring options are those proposed by www.wildasia.org and I used them as a benchmark when evaluating others. Apart from the benefits to the host community and country, consider the advantages becoming ‘responsible’ would bring to the tourism industry itself:

*The fastest growing segment of the tourist industry is that of responsible tourism. The demographic stretches across all age and income groups, leans towards the more resilient side of the guest spectrum, and is more often than not attracted to special interest tourism. RSITs (responsible special interest tourists) are very valuable guests, especially in these difficult times.

*Responsible tourism does not mean no more large groups. The MICE industry business can quite easily become responsible. It could for example offer pre/post event tours options that include ‘one day voluntourism projects’ or promote ‘combined team building & CSR projects’ while using RT compliant hotel and support services. Group tours can do the same, exchanging just one tour day with one voluntourism/tour day – and improve their product by doing so.

* The tourist industry has long complained that it is increasingly being held hostage by war, political upheaval and civil unrest at great financial expense to its collective membership, and all due to circumstances beyond its control.

* The enormous financial power of tourism, used more creatively and responsibly, could ensure a better, safer, more equitable – and therefore more stable – social environment. This would in turn reduce the occurrence and number of ‘circumstances beyond its control’.

* Arguments about global warming, climate change, forest and habitat loss aside, how far does the economy have to decline before poverty in the many countries of the world – where there are no social safety nets (this includes many tourist favorites) – makes them unsafe, or even perceived as being unsafe for tourist visitors? Can we afford not to act?

The BIG question is not should the industry make the transition to the responsible tourism model? But, how do the developed countries, short of funding themselves, with thousands of experienced people out of work, and thousands of new graduates unlikely to find a job, justify providing aid funding to the developing countries?

The truth is – that they cannot easily do so unless there is a logical trade off.

A concerted and global campaign that brings immediate and long-term benefits to both the developed and developing world through broad implementation of responsible tourism is a logical and powerful first step.

Consider the following course of action

1. Replace the NGOs with qualified local tour operators

Replace the NGOs (non-government organisations) directly involved in the community based tourism development (CBT) with RT compliant local tour operators who are willing to invest under an equitable arrangement that leaves ownership of the ‘attraction’ with the local community and management of the business with the tour operator under a fixed term contract.

2. Re-assign the NGOs to a more appropriate role

NGOs, who are currently directly involved in CBT project development, could be reassigned to a more suitable role in providing training, resources, and help to match communities with suitable local RT compliant tour operators, and promoting responsible tourism. [Note: The NGOs are only directly involved at ground level because the tour industry failed to establish an equitable model the first time around. If RT compliant tour operators can take their place they should do so, for they are the logical and industry preferred stakeholder. ]

3. Use problems in one area to fix problems in another

Governments of the developed countries could subsidize ‘qualified’ volunteers for RT development from funds earmarked for the unemployed. Newly qualified graduates, temporarily redundant mid-level managers, accountants, IT people, builders, teachers, artists, designers and others could be formed into units within a multi-skilled RT Development Task Force. They could be signed up for a one or two-year development projects at home and/or abroad, starting with but not limited to the development of responsible tourism.

This is an excellent opportunity for graduates to enjoy travel and exposure to other cultures throughvolunteer/internship CBT related work. While there, they could work alongside experienced managers (volunteers) and people in their intended field of employment.

Also, the benefits for the host country graduates and interns are invaluable. They get to work alongside their peers and foreign managers in fields related to their studies, or that will equip them for new challenges. They essentially get a year or two of intensive English language training as well.

4. Universities & Education Providers accredit on-the-job training, recognizing its value

Education providers could accredit this ‘on site’ training/retraining period’ for individuals who engage in Development Task Force work and to ensure their preferential placement when they return. The corporate sector should (and in many cases already do) place a higher value on ex-volunteers than they do on other potential employees.

5. Industry – where possible not lay off its knowledge base

Rather than laying off workers, companies can send those workers to the Development Task Force where their salaries (or part of them) are paid from government funds. The Development Task Force, with the expertise and equipment from the developed countries burgeoning ET (energy technology based industries) should be deployed to countries where the change to responsible tourism is being implemented.

6. Diplomacy & Trade

Look at the advantages offered here: Early market access gained, technologies tested, personnel trained, assistance provided to combat global warming, jobs provided in both donor and recipient countries, damaged relationships – between counterparts repaired, understanding and greater tolerance established between many levels of government and society for the good of all involved.

7. Global Security

In terms of winning the war against terrorism, regaining credibility for the capitalist system and promoting democratic values, this opportunity presents what is quite probably the best value for the money and the highest chance for success than we will see in our lifetime.

In the search for a global solution to the underlying problems we face, the proposal here offers exponential value in terms of: financial, social, educational and environmental benefits.

How difficult would it be to have the government, the tourism industry, the education industry and the corporate sector put this together?

How difficult would it be given the current level of internet based connectivity to mobilize the tourism industry and the buying public to support the call for change starting with the introduction of responsible tourism at a global level?

About the author:
Mr. Shane K Beary is the CEO of Track of the Tiger T.R.D (Tourism Resources Development). He runs the Track of the Tiger T.R.D. Eco-Adventures 2009 on the Pang Soong Nature Trails (SKAL Ecotourism Award 2006, started with PATA Foundation seed funding) under a unique private sector operated community owned eco-tourism venture. He is currently establishing the Bamboo Network – A Responsible Tourism Alliance for northern Thailand.

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