What does 2015 hold for Responsible Tourism?

Screenshot 2015-01-07 18.27.51The latest IPCC report on climate change was published back in November, just before WTM London. The IPCC presented further evidence of the impact of greenhouse gases on our climate and pointed again to the urgency of action – the longer we delay taking effective action to reduce carbon pollution and other greenhouse gas emissions the more difficult it will be to deal with it. The later we leave it the bigger the impacts will be that we shall need to address and the more acute reductions we shall need to make. Carbon pollution is cumulative. We are leaving a poisonous legacy for our children.

But enough of that, the IPCC’s report was met by a deafening silence. We have got used to the IPCC’s reports, they are no longer shocking, hardly news worthy. Frogs are reputed to die quietly if placed in cold water and the temperature is raised progressively – humans are not well equipped to deal with issues like climate change the effects of which either lack immediacy or where we can convince ourselves that any particular event was an aberration and will not recur. Delusional, or fearful, we turn to denial and carry on as usual.

2015 will end with the Paris UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Paris, meeting in its 21st session – just another meeting? Should we expect any progress? I for one hope so. PwC just yesterday published their forecast of an increase of 2.5% in carbon pollution in 2015, the rate of growth in carbon emissions is declining, but the pollution which creates the problems with our climate is increasing too fast for us to avoid a calamitous increase in average global temperature of 2°C.

In taking responsibility for tourism it is the local issues which matter, carbon pollution is a global issue in the sense that carbon pollution emitted in England contribute to climate change in Australia and vice versa. But carbon pollution needs to be addressed locally, where it is produced. Plastics disposed of in rivers end up in the oceans and contribute to the 5 ocean gyres of plastic damaging sea life. Potable water shortages are an issue in many places around the world, and in some of them tourism is a major contributor to the problem – but water shortages are not a problem everywhere.

Responsible Tourism is about identifying the issues which matter locally and those where tourism can make a contribution to solving them – and then to take responsibility and to act. If we can do something to reduce carbon pollution or to stop plastic waste joining one of the ocean gyros, if water is an issue locally we should reduce consumption and assist neighbouring communities to secure potable water.

There are many social and economic issues raised by tourism – two in particular are likely to come to prominence this year. The general election in the UK will put the spotlight on welfare payments, particularly for those provided to the “working poor”. These payments amount to a subsidy to the low paid employees and to the companies they work for, in the UK politicians are expressing increasing support for the living wage. Major brand hotels which outsource labour contracting to agencies are likely to face challenge, politicians are likely to call time on subsidised hotel staff.

Child protection remains a key challenge for the industry. This year is likely to see mounting pressure on those who are still offering orphanage tours despite mounting evidence that many of the children, in some cases the majority, are not orphans. The industry risks encouraging internal child trafficking by creating demand for orphans. We should be supporting children in their families and the work of NGOs like Next Generation Nepal who are rescuing, rehabilitating and reconnecting trafficked children with their families.

This year Responsible Tourism will be on the agenda at all four WTM shows in Sao Paulo, Cape Town, Arabia and London in November – there is still lots to do.

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Harold is Professor of Responsible Tourism at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he teaches and researches in the Centre for Responsible Tourism. Harold researches on tourism, local economic development and poverty reduction, conservation and responsible tourism and teaches Masters and PhD students. as well as the industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists. Harold also undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism which he founded in 2002 and which promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration.

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