Port of Spain, Trinidad – Almost a third of all travellers choose a destination because it is eco-friendly.
Destinations therefore should look at low-impact rather than high-value tourism, according to Martha Honey, co-founder of the Center for Responsible Travel, quoting figures from travel site TripAdvisor.
Companies that began implementing responsible travel policies in the 1990s, she noted, have outperformed those that did not. In 2010, for example, 51 per cent of meeting planners held meetings only in sustainable venues. New senior positions were also being created on a corporate-wide basis as the concept swept the industry, which is built on the idea that there is a need to protect the resource base on which tourism is built.
Targeting socially and environmentally-aware consumers both in the United States and Europe and centring on local assets rather than foreign imports, getting away from all-inclusive concepts, providing incentives for green innovation and incorporating industry best practices were crucial, she said.
Ms Honey was speaking at a special panel during the Sustainable Tourism Conference. Also speaking was Trudi Pearce of responsibletravel.com.
Ms Pearce noted that changes had occurred within the travel industry. A shift of power has been experienced from the provider to the client, a new generation wanted to know the product provenance, authenticity was now being demanded and during the financial crisis people wanted to reconnect with destinations.
She said that it was important for destinations or providers to now ask themselves whether they were in the service industry or in the business of orchestrating memorable events.
“If you are not the cheapest,” she said, “Reposition the destination with higher value, authentic tourism … learn from other destinations that are already marketing responsible tourism successfully such as Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago and the Cayman Islands.”
She said that the company for whom she worked was constantly feeding back to tourist boards as to market trends and what customers wanted from their vacations.
“You cannot just sell beach or warm-weather destination holidays. You have to offer more than that,” she noted.
Moderator Graham McKenzie offered a quote that he had heard during the conference.
“Tourism is about doing everyday things and marketing it to visitors,” he said, to good response from delegates.
Kristin Dahl of Travel Oregon, which is making strides into responsible tourism, said that it was vital to start acting at a community level. Once governments saw that initiatives were working and had a measurable community impact then they would support them.
“Policy makers eat stats up,” she noted. “Even anecdotal information helps get the message through.”
On that note, she mused, the experiential traveller did not read visitors’ guides. Rather, they sought to learn from their peers in sources they trusted. Thus, for a kiteboarder, a piece in a kite boarding magazine would have more impact.
“The story differentiates us,” she said.
Mr. McKenzie, responding to a question from the audience about how to counteract negative media stories of criminal activity within a destination, for example, said that it was a truism that bad news led to more advertising sales than good news. He gave the recent Boston Marathon bombings as an example and advised destinations, tour operators and industry stakeholders to have active social media and blogging sites, or if they could afford it, to utilise more aggressive publicity campaigns.
“Use good experiences from visiting tourists in their own words,” he advised.
Responsible tourism, Mr. McKenzie concluded, was also prone to political trade off.
If a company came in with a hotel or infrastructure project which was ‘not authentic’ by responsible travel standards, politicians necessarily would have to balance that out against things like jobs created, taxes collected and the subsequent available funds to assist a country’s healthcare, education and infrastructure.