WTM Responsible Tourism Programme Day 2

WTM Responsible Tourism Programme Day 2
Pippa Hankinson, Director, Blood Lions, speaks about South Africa’s canned lion industry, and how so-called petting experiences are a sham front for trafficking in animal parts

The second day’s responsible tourism programme at WTM began with a session – Water Security: An Urgent Issue for Business and the Community. Enver Duminy, CEO, Cape Town Tourism, told the story of the city’s recent water crisis, and how despite the negative media that the government’s Day Zero campaign created, community level initiatives had successfully addressed the need to change citizen behaviour, ranging from launching online dashboards to monitor and communicate water levels; to local people heading to natural springs to fill up containers and thus alleviating pressure on the central supply. 

P Bala Kiran, Director, Kerala Tourism Board, looked at water security not in terms of floods, such as those that hit the state in August 2018, causing 500 deaths and 1.5m people temporarily living in relief camps. Yet the crisis also saw the world’s largest rescue operation, with 500,000 people rescued. Much of the tourism industry repurposed itself to help, turning over its leisure boats to be used as rescue craft, and launching a new brand campaign after the floods that highlighted the state’s vulnerability and its heroes: Kerala – Human by Nature

Nicolas Perin, Programs & Partnerships Manager, International Tourism Partnership, explained that water accounts for 10% of costs for hotels on average, and most hotels pay for it twice – once when they purchase and then again for disposing it as wastewater. The organisation’s Hotel Water Measurement Initiative offers guidance and tools to enable hotels to reduce their water consumption by up to 50%. “It’s not rocket science,” he says. “There are solutions, and we need to not create new crazy ideas but to collaborate and replicate what works, scaling it up around the world for the destinations that most need it.”

The session Travel Broadens the Mind: Can We Do More? heard from Aziz Abu Sarah, who is founder & CEO, Mejdi Tours, a company which adopts an innovative approach to guiding. Mejdi Tours’s excursions feature two tour guides, each offering different perspectives on its unique ‘Dual Narrative Tours’, for example a Palestinian and an Israeli in Jerusalem, or a Protestant and a Catholic in Northern Ireland. “The mistake is to think travel is about distance,” said Aziz. “Travel is about change. It is about discovering difference.” He said tour companies need to lift people out of their comfort zone, taking them to more than just the sights and to meet with people from across the communities that they are visiting.

The session Child Protection: What is Better Than Orphanages? heard from international development consultant Martin Punaks, who said orphanages are an outdated institution, where well meaning companies and tourists are supporting orphanages with the best intentions, but inadvertently creating the incentives for these businesses to exist. 

Punaks said that there has been significant progress since he first spoke on the issue at WTM eight years ago, with growing numbers of leading companies and organisations moving away from offering experiences involving orphanages and residential care facilities. However, despite this issue having been on the agenda at WTM for many years, much of the industry remains too slow to make the widespread and systemic changes necessary to stop this happening. Every year it goes on, children are abused. 

“These orphanages are profit making businesses and the only reason they exist is thanks to the donations from tourists, who without meaning to are incentivising child trafficking,” said Punaks. “There are two questions. How do we get companies to safely divest without hurting the children. And what are the ethical and viable alternatives?”

Luci Gardner-O’Brien, Young Professional Advisor, at ethical volunteering organisation People and Places announced a new campaign Let’s Make White Saviour Complex Yesterday’s News. “Why would anyone let someone who is unchecked and unqualified walk into an orphanage and work with children?” she asked. “We wouldn’t be able to walk into a nursery in the UK, cuddle a baby and post a photo on Instagram. If I can’t do it at home, I shouldn’t be able to do it abroad.”

In an afternoon session, What Can the Travel Industry Contribute to the Conservation of Wildlife and Habitats? Richard Vigne, MD of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, said that tourism was essential to the survival of African wildlife, and that “large parts of the wilderness in southern and eastern Africa would simply disappear if it were not for the tourism industry.” However, far from praising the industry for its efforts, he was highly critical of its attitude to the natural world. “Our travel industry fails in any reasonable measure of sustainability,” added Vigne. “In our part of the world, the travel industry is considered by many to be an extractive industry like mining or logging of virgin rainforest.” He said that many businesses operated on an attitude that nature was there to be exploited, and he said that radical change was essential. “Business as usual is simply not possible,” said Vigne. “We need a quantum shift in our mindsets. Those who specialise in travel as their business are well positioned to lead dramatic change.”

Nick Stewart, Global Head of Wildlife Campaigns, World Animal Protection, explained that there are 3,000+ dolphins confined across 336 venues., adding that whereas a dolphin’s range in the wild is 100-400sq miles, most captive dolphins live in a tank that is 200,000 times smaller than their natural range. This confinement causes a range of problems for these highly intelligent and social animals, ranging from self harm to stress, aggression and infections. 

Stewart observed that although consumer attitudes are shifting, 58% still consider swimming with dolphins acceptable, compared to 67% in 2014. The industry is therefore still hugely profitable, with captive dolphins generating about 1.1 to 5.5bn dollars in ticket sales each year.

“There’s nothing educational about taking a child to see a complex marine predator do circus style tricks in return for a piece of fish,” observed Stewart. “We need to see an end to captive breeding and an end to wild capture.”

The final session of the day was Plastic Waste: What Should the Industry Do? “We need to drive more circularity in our approaches,” said Catherine Dolton, VP of Global Corporate Responsibility at IHG, which is the first hotel company to be a member of CE100, the corporate circular economy taskforce launched by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation. She gave examples of companies they now work with, such as supplier who produces duvets from plastic bottles, and another who turns disused fishing nets into yarn to create carpets. 

Jo Hendrickx, Founder of Travel Without Plastic, works with hotels to provide practical guidance to help them remove plastic from their supply chain. She shared her top five tips for hotels:

1: Revisit brand standards. Look at what plastics are really necessary, and what your customers really want.

2: Don’t jump straight to replacement. We ask hotels if they really need to replace plastic items, and couldn’t they just eliminate them. Do you really need to replace a plastic comb with a wooden comb? 

3: Not all alternatives are as green as they seem

4: Reassign budgets. Assign anything branded to the marketing budget. Cost reusable items in the room cost. 

5: Embrace new technology. From water filters to reusable bottles to chemical free cleaning, there are a range of solutions.

“Apathy will kill this industry and will eventually kill the planet,”said Dave Shanks,CEO, Water-to-Go. “I’m sick to death of people telling me I don’t know what to do.”

Jeremy Smith
Jeremy Smithhttp://www.jmcsmith.com
Jeremy Smith is the editor and co-founder of Travindy. He is a writer and communications consultant working for a more responsible and sustainable tourism industry. He is the author of two books, writes a fortnightly blog on responsible tourism for World Travel Market, and provides consultancy to a wide range of companies and organisations, ranging from National Parks to individual hotels and tour operators.

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