The 2016 responsible tourism programme at WTM London opened on Monday 7 November with a public ‘Conversation’ on How to Enhance the Guest Experience in India. A new format for this year, these Responsible Tourism Conversations have no prepared speeches or presentations, instead providing an extended time for anyone with an interest in the topic to discuss what works and what doesn’t with those with shared passions and experiences. Attendees at this first session ranged from Indian government and civil society representatives, to international responsible tour operators including Village Ways, Explore and Intrepid.
The session was opened by Vinod Zutshi, Secretary of Tourism for India, who laid out how responsible tourism is being embedded in his country’s offical tourism policies. “We have to study the carrying capacity of destinations and ensure there is not too much tourism for a destination to bear.” he explained, adding that India is also looking at adopting the principle of polluter pays for the industry.
Rupesh Kumar, State Responsible Tourism Field Coordinator for Kerala, said villages looking to develop community-based tourism – and the companies that work with them – should be focussing on showcasing activites that are the core part of the villagers’ livelihoods – such as farming – rather than “adding on dedicated and additional tourism experiences such as tiger tours and elephant tourism.”
His comments were supported by Richard Hearn from Village Ways. “Our guests are very quick to spot anything that is put on for a show,” said Richard. “The reason for them going is to experience village life, and the most common expression of satisfaction they give is privilege.”
Addressing the question of how one can ‘prove’ this authenticity and responsibility, Andy Rutherford from Fresh Eyes – People to People Travel said his company was now providing totally transparent pricing so everyone knows what people are being paid for their services, whether they are a DMC, guide or taxi driver. “The argument for doing responsible tourism has been wom with many people,” he said. “Our guests are now demanding that we prove the sustainability we claim.”
Glynn O’Leary from Transfrontier Parks Southern Africa also reflected on the challenges of authenticity and meeting consumer expectations, asking: “How do we explain to guests wanting to see how Bushmen lived 100 years ago that they have arrived 100 years too late?”
Adama Bah from Asset Gambia said lessons he has learned from Kerala is that on the one hand how the state was able to mainstream government influence into the process, and at the same time ensure that “development of responsible tourism is organic, community led and not as a result of, for example, NGO intervention”. How do we support subsistence farmers to become commercial farmers where they can supply a hotel? he asked.
Closing the session, WTM Responsible Tourism Co-ordinator Harold Goodwin summed up the many contributions saying: “If we can get rebellious tourists and rebellious locals to work together, then we will get the development of a truly sustainable tourism.”