On May 18th, practitioners, academics, current and prospective students gathered in Leeds to mark ten years of Leeds Beckett’s UNWTO-certified Master’s in Responsible Tourism Management (MSc RTM), and to celebrate the difference the course has made to pioneering responsible tourism practice around the world. I was one of ten alumni speaking in the ‘Alumni Spotlight’ session.
Why MSc RTM?
The MSc RTM at Leeds Beckett is one out of only two postgraduate courses in the UK, and a small handful in Europe, to have received the UNWTO TedQual certification in quality of tourism education, research and training programmes. Over the last ten years, the most well-known and respected names in responsible tourism, such as Prof Harold Goodwin, Prof Xavier Font, Dr Davina Stanford, Lucy McCombes and Peter Richards to name a few, have either taught or completed the MSc RTM. All of them except Prof Goodwin attended the Leeds conference.
The all-day event, hosted by Leeds Beckett’s RTM team, was as practical, solution-focused and well-structured as the MSc is. The morning focused on practical strategies for managing the interaction between tourists and local people in destinations, with keynote speakers sharing their leading practice from Jamaica, Sri Lanka, Wales, Australia and Myanmar (via Skype). Participants included representatives from ABTA, Thailand Community Based Tourism Institute, the Travel Foundation and Crystal Creek Meadows Eco-friendly cottages in Australia. As always with great presentations, there was not enough time for a thorough discussion, but we managed to run a few lively Q&A sessions via Skype.
In the afternoon’s interactive ‘Alumni Spotlight’ session, ten former students shared their ‘success stories’, ‘heroic fails’ and ‘ideas on the go’. The projects in the spotlight included Carmacal carbon calculator tool, Earth Changers, Limalimo Lodge, Responsible Tourism Matters, Sam Isaac Research, Small Matters, Trish Travel Food, sustainability at Hostelling International and the Transcaucasian Trail. We have presented our ideas, asked for feedback and constructive criticism, discussed the strategies to move on. Gerben Hardeman from the Dutch and Travel Trade Association demonstrated how easily and quickly Carmacal calculates one’s carbon emissions and helps make alternative choices to reduce the footprint. That was one of my highlights of the day.
The conference proved to be a useful platform to exchange the most recent research and practice on taking RT practice forward (great insights from Prof Xavier Font), practical strategies for managing tourism-host interactions responsibly, changing tourists’ behaviours to save energy and water, behaviours and working with stakeholders to ensure the local people benefit from tourism. There was also a moving presentation on changing tourist’s perceptions and attitudes towards homeless from Unseen Tours that runs walking tours in London using homeless people as tour guides.
Highlighting and discussing the challenges and past/potential failures of our projects and consultancy experience in developing and implementing responsible tourism worldwide was particularly useful for anyone interested in taking that path. And the feedback from other professionals who understand the issues and can relate to many was invaluable. I hope we have convinced some of the potential students to enrol for the MSc this September.
It was encouraging to see so many alumni pursuing their passion for responsible tourism and succeeding in implementing their ideas and project to create better places for people to live in and for people to visit. As Dr Davina Stanford, the MSc RTM Course Director), summarised: “The main themes of the day were: passion, practicality, simplicity and collective endeavour for a better tourism industry.”
Something to reflect on
I will leave you with a few questions posed by the speakers that we were discussing:
- There will be growing social impacts across the globe caused by the growing lack to access to natural resources – what measures do we need to take to minimise the negative impacts?
- How do we convince the travel industry, particularly the big travel companies who rely on flying their clients all around the world, to use Carmacal to effectively manage and reduce their carbon footprint?
- How do we convince the governments to take responsible tourism seriously and to develop tourism sustainably? What can we do to shift their obsession from increasing the number of tourists into focusing on tourists’ length of stay and money spent in destinations?
- How do we best communicate the need to reduce energy and water to our accommodation users, and potentially ask for changes in their behaviour, without offending them?
- When businesses get certified, they only value the things they measure – how to improve the sustainability of travel businesses as a whole, not just the elements they will be assessed on?
- How do we work with the local businesses and accommodation providers to showcase local produce with visitors?
- What factors do you need to consider and what to consult the local community on (and not to raise expectations at the same time) while starting a new responsible tourism venture? And what interventions are most beneficial for them?
- Many tourists breach human rights of the locals while executing their customer rights – they think they can do so because they have paid for something. What can be done to change this (often harmful) attitude?
Marta Mills leads stakeholder engagement and communications efforts for the Transcaucasian Trail project. She has many years of experience in communications and has worked on community development projects for the Polish government as well as on poverty reduction programmes in South Caucasus, Eastern Europe and Central Asia for the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). She is a well-travelled backpacker, hiker, cyclist and yoga teacher with a passion for the Caucasus since her first trip in 2001.