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An increasing number of customers are concerned about the impact of tourism on destination communities and the environment. Fuelled by regular newspaper reports on the consequences of travel and tourism, today’s customers are looking for ways of continuing to have holidays, but minimizing the negative effects of them. Tour operators must respond to this demand, and do more than just pay lip service to ideas of fair trade and sustainable tourism.
At the moment there are many specialist companies offering ecotourism. These companies are flourishing, but they are a tiny section of the tourist industry as a whole. We need to bring responsible tourism into the mainstream of the industry if mainstream tourism is to continue to grow. We need to ensure that the very assets upon which we rely – beautiful beaches, unspoilt landscapes, ancient monuments and fascinating cultures – are protected in order to sustain our industry. At the moment we employ one in every 11.5 of the planet’s workers. We are a huge industry, and must become a responsible one.
There are many initiatives currently in place. Tourism Concern’s Fair Trade in Tourism campaign encourages dialogue between tour operators, tourists and destination communities, and promotes and highlights examples of good practice. The UK’s Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) has produced guidelines for its members, encouraging them to protect the environment, respect local cultures, benefit local communities, conserve natural resources and minimise pollution. The Tour Operators' Initiative for Sustainable Tourism Development has similar objectives, is open to all tour operators, and has the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Tourism Organization (WTO). We must take the ideas promoted by these initiatives on board and act on them.
So what does this mean in practice? We must change our business practices in every sector of the industry. We need to increase the number of tour operators committed to responsible tourism, and increase their visibility within the industry. We need to increase tourists’ awareness of what we are doing, and what they can do in return. We can encourage our customers to be responsible tourists by giving them information on local customs, suitable dress codes and sustainability issues at their destinations. We need to listen to and work with destination communities. This may involve taking drastic measures such as limiting the number of tourists allowed to visit certain destinations, or increasing prices so that local communities benefit more from tourism. Above all, we need to ensure that mainstream tourism is responsible tourism.
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