Highlights from Tuesday’s Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London

Highlights from Tuesday's Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London
Water to Go CEO Dave Shanks showcasing his company’s water bottles, which provide clean filtered drinking water and offer a sustainable alternative to disposable plastic. (click image for more)

A whistle stop tour through the key moments in the Responsible tourism sessions at WTM London on Tuesday November 6, 2018.

Wildlife: animal welfare and conservation

60% of the 3.6-6 million wildlife tourists a year pay for activities with negative animal welfare and/or negative conservation impacts. This was the sobering statistic that Dr Tom Moorhouse, from Oxford University opened the session titled ‘Wildlife: animal welfare and conservation’. It’s not that people don’t care, he said, it’s that they are unaware.

He reported on research by his organisation the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCru), which found that 80% of Chinese tourists believe that if places were bad for animals they wouldn’t be allowed to exist. Although the number is less from the UK, US, Canada and Australia, it is still 30%. “Everybody thinks they have a duty to only go to places that are good for animals,” he observed, but “In the absence of regulation tourist choices determine standards at wildlife ventures.” Reflecting on the need for simple, clear advice, he added: “If there is one rule – if you are touching the animals and are in the position to have a selfie taken with them, you are probably doing something wrong.”

Dr Xavier Font, Professor, University of Surrey also explored the reason for the lack of understanding about what makes for an ethical wildlife experience. He presented findings from his recent research which looked at how much (or little) 62 large national travel associations around the world talked about animal welfare on their websites. The researchers found that only 21 of 62 national tourism associations mentioned sustainability on their sites, and of those only six mentioned animal welfare, and even less, only three, advised their members as to what they should to.

Meanwhile, 16 national travel associations put photographs of wild animals in captivity on their websites to try to attract tourists to their country. “There’s a lot of money being made selling irresponsible holidays where we know we are selling animal cruelty,” said Font. “We need to identify the key hotspots where things are the worst, and eradicate these practices. Delete the worst. Work with the best. Train the rest.”

Jane Edge, Managing Director, of the South Africa-based Fair Trade Tourism explained that most tourists in Africa come to see wildlife, but the price of seeing them in the wild can be prohibitive. This encourages people to go to captive animal attractions. This is exemplified, she explained, by the fact there are 8,000 lions in captivity in South Africa, yet just 4,000 alive in the wild or in managed reserves.

To address this issue, Fair Trade Tourism launched the first captive wildlife guidelines in South Africa in June 2018. Edge said she was particularly concerned at the volunteer sector, where people with good intentions are paying to come and care for young lions and other animals, despite the fact that very often these are actually breeding cubs to be hunted when they are older, in other words these lions are bred to be shot. “There must be no false claims with regards to conservation breeding or trade, or so called sanctuaries that are trading animals for profit,” she said, drawing especial attention to a recent story about a predator breeding centre that has been promoting its supposed success with developing in vitro fertilisation techniques for lions. “This has no conservation benefits,” she explained.

After these highly critical presentations, the event ended on a practical note, with Jennifer Parker from Rickshaw Travel announcing that her company has worked with conservation organisation Animondial to create a free ‘Animal Welfare in Tourism Starter Kit’, which is aimed at small and medium-sized business.

She Trades: Empowering African Women Entrepreneurs through Tourism

A session titled ‘She Trades: Empowering African Women Entrepreneurs through Tourism’ explored how tourism can best improve access for women to the economic opportunities that tourism presents on the continent.

Mary Ragui, Board Member, Kenya Association of Tour Operators, said that companies need to establish policies to integrate women into their supply chains, such as committing to source 30% of their food products from women farmers, or working with women empowerment groups for the delivery of services and handicrafts. Ragui added that solutions like the webinars offered by the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades Initiative can play a useful role in supporting rural women who would have neither the funds nor opportunity to access in person business support.

Libby Owen-Edmunds, Private Sector Development specialist from AdLib Consulting, said the access challenges confronted women in Africa means that tourism businesses need to be proactive: “You need to be reaching out to the women and connecting them into your businesses, rather than waiting for them to come to you,” she said.

Highlights from Tuesday's Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London
The audience for a session exploring solutions to overtourism that are being implemented in Barcelona

What can we learn [about overtourism] from Barcelona?

An afternoon session titled “What can we learn from Barcelona?” explored primarily what the Spanish city has done to address the challenges related to the phenomenal growth in tourist numbers of recent years. “Barcelona has made a real effort not to scapegoat tourists for overtourism,” said WTM Responsible Tourism Advisor Harold Goodwin, in his introduction to the session. Instead, he observed that tourism is portrayed as an important and integral part of the life of the city.

“Tourism is the way it is because of how Barcelona is and Barcelona is how it is today thanks to tourism,” commented Joan Torrella, Managing Director, Turisme de Barcelona, “It is impossible to separate the two. We need to consider tourists in Barcelona as citizens with rights and duties.”

Joan Torrella, Managing Director, Turisme de Barcelona, said that following extensive research and engagement with all stakeholders across the city, Barcelona’s destination management strategy is now based on six pillars: sustainability, competitiveness, social return, the multiplier effect of tourism, integrated management, and integrating different voices. “We don’t need more tourists right now,” said Torella, “we need to ensure tourism improves the quality of life for our residents,” adding that the need was to spread tourists around the city “for our own survival”.

Speaking from the floor, Martin Brackenbury, Managing Partner, Brackenbury & Partners commended the city for the fact in Barcelona tourism isn’t separate but part of governing and managing the whole city. Referring to the newly published Barcelona 2020 strategy, “I’ve never seen a document that sets out so well all the interlinking factors,” he commented. “It’s a very serious piece of work that should be very much admired.”

“Once you decide as a city government that tourism is fundamental to the city,” commented Goodwin, “then it is inevitable that you have to look at city planning and regulation for tourism.”

Barcelona has implemented a wider programme of strategies and responses than any other similar destination, ranging from local initiatives like a fenced park that is free to residents but where tourists have to pay; to city wide schemes – such as a telephone hotline where Barcelona residents can complain about unruly tourists renting our private property; a monthly forecast that publicises how busy the city is expected to be so that residents can plan ahead; and the implementation of a tourism tax. “Our tourism tax is an important element to deliver benefits for the city,” said Agustí Colom, Councillor for tourism, commerce and markets, Barcelona City Council. “It helps make it clear to residents that there are benefits to them from tourism to the city.”

When the session was opened to the floor for questions, Ken Robinson, past chairman of The Tourism Alliance, sounded a note of caution as to the long term efficacy of techniques such as redistributing tourists around the city. Observing that promoting an unending growth in tourist numbers will eventually by necessity come up against the absolute limits to carrying capacity, he commented: “Red lines are still red lines – as fast as you disperse people, more tourists are being sent in. The bucket will be topped up as fast as you move people somewhere else.”

Inclusive Tourism countering Disadvantage & Disability

The session titled ‘Inclusive Tourism countering Disadvantage & Disability’ began with John Kinnear, Programme Manager, Family Holiday Association (FHA), explaining that the concept of social tourism, which looks to get excluded families and individuals the chance to enjoy the benefits of a holiday, is often embedded into national strategy and well funded on mainland Europe. In the UK, on the other hand, it relies on the efforts of organisations like the one he works for.

The FHA takes disadvantaged families and children on free holidays that are often their first time having such an experience. Two thirds of the people they take on holiday have mental health issues; a third have experienced domestic violence; and a third of the children have never been to the beach before. This isn’t just a nice thing to offer – their trips bring a wide range of social and emotional benefits, ranging from improved self confidence and mental health, to improving wellbeing and family relationships.

Jayni Gudka, Director, Unseen Tours, shared the story of the social enterprise she works with, which employs homeless and previously homeless people as tour guides on walking tours to London. All the (non-homeless) volunteers who support the enterprise are unpaid, ensuring that the maximum amount of the proceeds can go to the homeless guides. The organisation seeks to challenge negative stereotypes and prejudices around homelessness, while boosting confidence and opportunities for the tour guides, many of whom have either gone on to work as tour guides in other organisations, or find other forms of work. “Guides are free to talk with guests about whatever they wish, from their views on politics to their unique understanding of life on the streets,” explained Gudka, “which makes them truly authentic.”

She was followed to the stage by one of Unseen’s tour guides, Viv, who takes guides round Covent Garden, where she has years’ experience of sleeping rough. “It is a real tour,” she explained, “Not Harry Potter.” Asked what Unseen Tours meant for her personally, she quoted at length from Samuel Johnson’s famous words about those who are bored of London being bored of life, adding “I love London.”

Tourism and Water

During the afternoon session on ‘Tourism and Water’, Jacqueline Jackson, Senior Account Director – EMEA & ROW, Corporate Business at Trucost framed the water issue in the context of a range of interconnected challenges facing the world. First, the global population is increasing with a further 50% growth expected by 2050. As this happens, the global middle class will grow from 3.59bn to 5.3bn by 2030. A growth in the middle classes means a growth in tourism. And many of those tourists want to go to islands and other water scarce areas (because they are warm), and they want to go there at the driest times of year.

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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