Summary of WTM Responsible Tourism Programme, Monday November 5, 2018

Summary of WTM Responsible Tourism Programme, Monday November 5, 2018
standing room only for a session looking at what the travel industry should do about plastic pollution

The opening session of World Travel Market’s 2018 Responsible Tourism Programme focussed on ‘Business Taking Responsibility for Security, Health and Safety’. Simon King, Founder of the South Africa-based organisation Park Doctor, said that for tourism to deliver positive impact in the communities where it operates, companies need to change the way they look after guest health in remote areas. “Do not use an insurance mindset in a remote area,” he explained, “it takes resources out of area and into city. Instead we need to support development in the region.” He added that the travel industry, which takes people into these areas and profits from their visits, should consider how the military would never deploy troops without having support systems to bring them back. “They don’t rely on someone else,” he said, “they create their own support structure.”

Introducing the session titled ‘Creating Shared Value’, WTM Responsible Tourism Advisor Professor Harold Goodwin explained that the concept of Creating Shared Value (CSV) “responds to the rapid growth in market demand for experiences and creating additional products that support local communities. It is not CSR, but rather putting positive impact at the centre of the way a business operates.”

Jane Ashton, Director of Sustainability Development, TUI Group, referred to a study of TUI’s impact in Cyprus conducted by the Travel Foundation and PWC, saying it found that its hotels were using less local products and services than the local population and businesses in general. “There is still so much more value to be unleashed by focussing on products that are locally provided,” she said.

Glynn O’Leary, Co-founder & CEO from South Africa’s Transfrontier Park Destinations (TPD), said he wanted to talk not about principles and policies, but about what shared value looked like in action. TPD’s business model involves taking over the management of properties and business that have totally failed, and then integrating them with the local communities to make them successful, and doing this through developing local microenterprises, from artisans to food producers, to be suppliers to the lodges. TPD owns nothing, keeping 100% of ownership with the local communities. He gave the example of TPD’s Khomeni-San owned !Xaus lodge, which is so remote that supplying yoghurt to the guests at breakfast involves a round trip of over 700km. Since working with TPD for the last 10 years, this once failed 24 bed lodge has generated over 40 million rand in economic activity for its remote region.

Finishing the session, Derek Hanekom, Minister of Tourism, South Africa, said tourism needs to  do more than just make a difference through creating economic opportunities. Giving the example of visiting and staying in townships, he said: “We have to break the prejudices,” saying often the travel operators are more afraid than the travel operators. “It’s not just about doing this because it is the right thing to do – do it because it’s a great experience.” Highlighting how Transfrontier Parks Destinations fills its lodges with furniture made by local artisans, he suggested: “Why not go one step further, and make every locally sourced item in your lodges for sale?”

A session exploring the challenges of overcrowding, titled ‘Coping with Success in Major Cities’, brought together representatives from four of the most popular cities in the world – London, New York, Barcelona and Amsterdam. Frans van der Avert, CEO, Amsterdam Marketing, described the ideal city as “liveable, lovable, prosperous”, and said achieving that goal comes through finding the right balance between the needs of visitors, business and local people.

“It’s a challenge,” he said, “A dragon with different heads. Every time you chop one off another comes up.” He explained that despite nominally being Amsterdam’s city marketing organisation, they no longer promote Amsterdam, having decided in 2015 not to spend any more money on marketing the city, focussing instead on guiding visitors to high quality attractions and spreading them around the city. At the same time, he observed, “with open tolerant cities we can’t say you are not welcome anymore.”

“With open tolerant cities we can’t say you are not welcome anymore.”

Laura Citron, Chief Executive, London & Partners, said their aim is to grow tourism in ways that are beneficial to Londoners. They do this by attracting A) tourists that are most beneficial to the city; B)Tourists who want to enjoy diverse attractions; C) People who will come at different times of year and use London at different times of day; and D) those who will travel all around the city and look to live like a local. Asked who are the people who deliver those benefits, and who will behave that way, she answered: “Millennials from longer haul markets, with a culturally curious mindset,” adding that the city’s promotion is now exclusively focussed on bringing those kinds of visitors.

In the afternoon, the responsible tourism programme once again highlighted the range of issues associated with child protection. On the subject of volunteering in orphanages, Alex Christopoulos, Deputy Chief Executive, Lumos, said that: “promoting an orphanage draws in money and pulls children away from families to places where the needs of the organisation take precedence over the needs of a child,” adding: “What is the alternative we can offer that enables people who want to help to feel good about themselves?”

Dr Krish Kandiah is Founding Director, Home for Good, a UK based charity finding permanent loving homes for the 80,000 children in care system. He was cautiously optimistic for progress on the issue. On the one hand, he warned that: “If we just turned the money off to orphanages right now, that could put children in orphanages in greater danger. We need people to continue to finance child protection, but to do it by supporting viable, sustainable alternatives.”

“There is about to be a plastics-style revolution when it comes to orphanage care.”

What made him optimistic is that he felt that: “There is about to be a plastics-style revolution when it comes to orphanage care.” He said that just as ‘Blue Planet’ changed attitudes to plastic pollution ahead of government legislation, “it is exciting that the travel industry could be on the right side of this story.” As an example, he explained that research by his organisation was surprised to learn that there are large numbers of millennials coming forward to foster children in UK, while they had assumed it would be mostly older people.  

“We need to go further than just focussing on orphanages,” said Jamie Sweeting, President, Planeterra Foundation, explaining that though their parent company G Adventures haven’t visited orphanages for a very long time, “what we have learned through our work with Child Safe is that we need to remove children completely from our tourist offer.” He said he reckoned that there would be very many companies at Excel using images of children in their marketing, yet few if any of them would have either gained the permission of the children’s parents, or remunerated them.

A session on ‘Partnerships for Change and Development’ saw representatives from across the industry explore how different organisations work together to effect change. “Partnerships between non-profits, government and business really exist to support destinations,” said Paula Vlamings from Tourism Cares, adding that the risk for those destinations that don’t engage is that they will decline from not tackling issues like overtourism and plastics pollution. “Companies are all selling the same places,” she added, “so how do we come together to create solutions to issues, and then because we have a common dialogue move forward together and create more change within the sector.”

“We need to remove children completely from our tourist offer.”

Glynn O’Leary from Transfrontier Park Destinations said one of the challenges in partnerships is that there is often an unequal power relationship between small local operators and large international organisations. This can put pressure on the local organisation to meet the demands of their international tour operator partners, regardless of whether the changes fully respect the rights of local people to live as they choose in their homes. He gave two examples from his own company’s experience. In one case they were told by the international tour operator to stop children swimming in the rivers when visitors were there; and in another they were asked to remove children from the local village bars.“Why is it OK for me to go with my grand-daughter to a pub in the UK,” he asked, “but international tour operators I work with in South Africa are demanding that I change the way the village works in order to meet with company expectations?”

James Thornton, CEO, Intrepid Group, explained that done correctly, making the ethical choice should make for good business. He said a few years ago his company removed elephant riding from its offer in Thailand, and the following year business to the destination went up. The company was then able to put additional money into supporting alternatives such as elephant sanctuaries. “If you make the right decisions and back it up with the right evidence,” he said, “you end up with better experiences for travellers and better business for your group.”

The final session of the day asked: ‘Is the industry reducing the plastic pollution it causes?’ Sören Stöber, Director of Business Development ESG & Sustainability, Trucost, said that research by his organisation into the economic cost of plastic pollution found that the ‘natural capital cost’ of plastic pollution was 75bn globally in 2015. Jo Hendrickx, Founder of Travel Without Plastic, an organisation which works with hotels and other travel organisations to remove plastic effectively and sustainably from their supply chain, shared research her organisation recently conducted with 10 hotels in Gran Canaria, which found that the hotels used 6.6 million single use items a year, of which 15% were totally unnecessary and could be removed straight away.

Victoria Barlow, Group Environmental Manager, Thomas Cook, announced the company’s #NoPlaceforPlastics pledge, launched today at WTM, through which Thomas Cook has committed to remove 70 million single use plastic items from its supply chain by 2020. Measures range from removing plastic stirrers from the group’s airlines and straws from its hotels, to signing up several of its hotels to Travel Without Plastic’s online toolkit. She also announced a new partnership with the upcycling company Wyatt and Jack, who will be taking broken tourist inflatables from the company’s hotels and repurposing them it into new products.

Sherin Francis, CEO, Seychelles Tourism Board, explained that for her islands their main livelihood is tourism, and the industry relies upon the pristine natural environment. Last year therefore, the Seychellois government gave the islands’ businesses just six months until July 2107 to completely remove a wide range of single use plastics from their supply chains. Business requests for more time to adapt were declined, and the result was that within six months the islands had successfully transitioned – so that business as usual on the islands is now defined by use of the alternatives. “We may be tiny, and with a population of just 90,000 we aren’t contributing that much plastic to the ocean,” she added. “But we have to do what matters.”

Concluding the day’s programme, Ian Rowlands, Director, Incredible Oceans, observed how despite a growing body of research revealing the damage we are doing to the world’s environment, such as the WWF’s report from last week revealing that global wildlife populations have fallen 60% since 1970, and IPPC’s recent climate report that we have just 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate chaos, business and society is not transforming fast enough to meet these challenges to our very survival. He said he hoped that the sea change in attitudes to plastic pollution caused by the ‘Blue Planet’ programme had proved rapid systemic change was possible, and that engaging people in tackling this issue might offer a way to start making the urgent and radical changes necessary.

Travindy is an independent website featuring news and opinion on all issues to do with tourism and sustainability. Written primarily for an industry audience, our aim is to support the transformation of the sector into one that is regenerative, restorative and fully inclusive.

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