Understanding responsible tourism
Jean-Claude Baumgarten, President of the World Travel and Tourism Council, explains that the global tourism industry is responsible for 10% of the world’s GDP. It employs over 230 million people and is the fastest growing industry world wide. For this reason it makes perfect sense for the industry to take a leading role in responsible environmental management.
The tourism industry essentially provides tourists access to other people’s environments, whether that is a coastline, a city, a mountain range or beaches. ‘Responsible tourism implies a proactive approach by the tourism sector towards the environment, through the promotion of balanced sustainable tourism.’
This is particularly important where the focus of the tourism sector activities is on the natural environment, as is the case with wildlife viewing, hunting and marine tourism.
There are particular challenges in making nature-based tourism sustainable. Responsible tourism development has to be underpinned by sustainable environmental practices. A crucial part of this environment is our cultural heritage. The tourism sector’s responsibility towards the cultural environment is crucial to the development of these sustainable practices.
Developing local economies
South Africa is now beginning to work on growing the local economic benefits which tourism can bring to an area. There is much economic growth to be gained from creating a more diversified tourism product and marketing a wider range of experiences, activities and services to tourists.
Established enterprises can expand their value added services to tourists, by encouraging and assisting the development of complimentary products and linking with emerging businesses. The larger and more diversified the local tourism base, the more successful, enterprises in the area will become.
This practice will provide particular opportunities for local economic development in rural areas where it can offer people an alternative to moving to urban areas. Proper integration and synergy leads to better economic growth within an area. However, tourism must be market related.
Community-based and other tourism development processes must be properly planned, implemented and managed according to market demands. Many South Africans, especially the poor, will gain from the employment opportunities created by thriving enterprises.
One way for tourism business owners to act responsibly is in complying with the new labour bill for hospitality industry which has set minimum wages for employees. Complying with this law improves the wealth levels of workers in the industry and negates exploitation.
The objectives of the National Responsible Tourism Development Guidelines for South Africa include the following:
- Involve the local community in planning and decision making
- Assess the social impacts as a prerequisite to developing tourism
- Maintain and encourage social and cultural diversity
- Be sensitive to the host culture
The tourism industry can impact greatly on the world and the environment. For example, global warming and the excessive use of water by tourism businesses and tourists themselves. They also speak about the need to preserve natural habitat and cultural heritage. All involved in tourism must protect the authenticity of every destination and social structure.
Tourism business owners can recycle the water used for bathing by using the water for flower or vegetable gardens, lawns etc. This kind of activity shows resourcefulness, a characteristic which contributes to effective management of costs and increased revenue.
A relatively serious issue, particularly considering the rapid growth of the tourism industry, is that of infrastructure planning and development for the tourism industry globally. South Africa is hastily ensuring the development of the necessary infrastructure for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. This effort should continue to be a priority for our country because tourism doesn’t start and end with 2010.
Every tourism business owner is required to address these issues in the context of their own business. If all do their best to serve these objectives the tourism industry will go a long way in achieving the goals set by ASGISA to improve its contribution substantially to the country’s GDP and to help alleviate the unemployment rate of the country. This industry has the power to accomplish these goals, but it requires a concerted unified effort by all within this industry in order to achieve them.
Being acknowledged as a responsible tourism establishment can also aid in the marketing of a destination or particular business. Tourists are becoming more informed and aware and so make conscious choices around supporting those establishments which are contributing to responsible tourism.
It therefore also makes sense to use responsible tourism as a marketing tool which will not only assist the business from a resourcefulness point of view but will add to the survival and profitability of the business and its surrounding environment.
Author Nikita Mfenyana, COO Tourism Fund, Business Partners Ltd