The 2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations defined it as one that:
- 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 embracing 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 • Is culturally sensitive, encourages respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
Since then, Responsible Tourism (RT) has been an expression bandied about so often and with such unfailing regularity, you would imagine we are devoted practitioners of it. Yet do we really know what it entails; what it requires of us as stakeholders? Are we really ‘creating better places for people to live in, and better places to visit’? At first glance it appears not. A longer look at the increasingly concretised shrug around us clearly suggests we are not. While a detailed autopsy of last year’s Himalayan catastrophe speaks volumes about even governmental inertia in this sphere. Yet no one–individuals, organisations, destinations–can escape the imperatives of the need to practice it.
“Responsibility should come naturally, through conviction and knowledge. RT is not a tourist slogan and just ticking off a list of guidelines to be ‘marketable’ seems hypocritical to me”, declares Frank Schlictmann, initiator and curator at the 4tables Project, credited with placing Gunehar smack centre of the travel-for-art-destinations in Himachal. “Here at 4tables, my responsibility starts with aesthetics; I care for quality and for beauty. That Gunehar is already being associated with quality due to our activities is a good indicator. Taking the village and the villagers at face value is another responsibility. Much too often people associate villages with backwardness and think up projects that are antagonistic in nature”.
Indeed, why should we ‘teach’ communities instead of ‘learning’ from them? Why should we ‘change’ them to suit our concepts? Why should we ‘use’ them instead of making them partners? Sentiments echoed by George Dominic, Executive Director at the family-run CGH Earth, the core values of which are more than evident at their leisure and wellness properties peppering faraway Kerala. “RT is a fancy term used in marketing our kind of products and services, often just a “green wash”. However, in our household it was a way of life – deep rooted and part of our DNA.
In fact we come from a family who for generations were farmers. Respect for the land and her people were the dictum and it becomes part of us in what-ever we do. It was but natural that we ask ourselves what would be the impact of our decisions and actions on the community around us and the natural resources that could be endangered or adversely affected.” This philosophy has justifiably reaped a bountiful harvest of awards, not least the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) for environment and the Green Globe at the World Travel Market (WTM).
Responsible Travel Initiatives (Credit: Wanderink.com)
The traveller is an equal stakeholder of RT and in today’s dynamic travel landscape can hardly afford to shirk or escape his responsibilities. Off-late, a growing number of low-on-intrusion-high-on-experience initiatives have succeeded in adding that extra-mile to Kodak moments. Listed here are a few you could consider factoring into your forthcoming travel plans.
Ecotourism: Any tourism initiative that helps in the conservation of local culture and environment as well as foster community participation and is sustainable commercially qualifies to be an ecotourism project.
Community-based tourism: Community-based tourism includes travelling to natural destinations inhabited by indigenous cultures. The focus here is on giving a hand to help preserve these disappearing communities through cultural exchange, financial assistance and education.
Rural tourism: In rural tourism, travellers are provided with opportunities to visit rural areas and participate in recreational and other activities, events, festivals or attractions that are a part of hinterland life.
Agro tourism: This is a subcategory of ecotourism and rural tourism. Travellers are encouraged to experience the farmer’s life and learn about different agricultural practices. These can be as elaborate as farmland irrigation, crop cycles and harvesting to growing a kitchen garden, and provides an opportunity to work alongside farmers, tea pickers, vineyard growers and fishermen.
Fair trade tourism: This takes fair trade into travel and engages the industry to make the conditions of those in the destination countries fair. It ensures that benefits are shared more equitably between travellers, the tourism industry, governments and most importantly, the citizens of the host country.
Heritage tourism: This is among the commonest forms of tourism in India and respects the natural and built environments of the people and place. Local economies can be vastly aided by heritage tourism and developing heritage trails which link heritage or cultural landmarks.
Geotourism: Coined by the National Geographic, the phrase Geotourism defines a type that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place – its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents.
Pro poor tourism (PPT): PPT is not a specific product or a niche sector but an approach to tourism development and management. It enhances the linkages between tourism businesses and poor people so that tourism’s contribution to poverty alleviation is increased and poor people are able to participate better in product development.
Altruistic travel : This voluntary movement in travel includes donating financial resources, talent and time to protect and positively impact cultures and environments. Travel philanthropy as this is commonly called, helps to support community development, environmental, socio-cultural and economic improvements, providing jobs, educational and professional training, bio diversity conservation and healthcare.
Volunteer travel: Voluntourism is combining voluntary service to a destination with other ‘traditional’ elements of travel like art, culture, history, recreation in that destination. The popularity of this kind of tourism is spreading rapidly and there are opportunities to volunteer all over the world.
The Responsible Tourism Awards were founded in 2004 to celebrate and inspire change in the tourism industry. The Awards rest on a simple principle – that all types of tourism, from niche to mainstream, can and should be organised in a way that preserves, respects and benefits destinations and local people. And to celebrate the shining stars of responsible tourism – the individuals, organisations and destinations that work innovatively with local cultures, communities and biodiversity. Since their inception, the World Responsible Tourism Awards have grown to be the most respected in the travel trade – largely because they attract nominations from discerning members of the public (responsible travel.com).
“It is a matter of great pride for us to be nominated for the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2014. We have been long-listed for ‘Best for wildlife conservation’, awarded to a tourism business or initiative that preserves and carefully manages habitat and wildlife species”, shares Anu Dhillon, Director – Chambal Safari, one of few travel businesses from India to have been nominated this year. Their organisation has been active in the little known National Chambal Sanctuary for the past 15 years. Through promotion of responsible tourism, they have been instrumental in placing the sanctuary on the international birding and wildlife tourism map, thus helping to ensure its continued protection.
This article has earlier appeared in The Tribune.
Images courtesy: 4Tables Project, CGH Earth, Wanderink, Chambal Safari.