Ahead of the eighth Responsible Tourism in Destinations (RTD8) conference in Manchester next week, the Travel Foundation’s acting chief executive Salli Felton speaks to Blue & Green Tomorrow about how travel organisations can create lasting change.
At the event, which takes place April 3-5, Felton is taking part in a panel discussion on how to effectively respond to the issue of responsible destination management.
An environmental scientist by profession, she has spent 20 years implementing sustainable principles across a variety of industry sectors, both in Australia and the UK
What does the Travel Foundation do?
The Travel Foundation is an independent charity that works with the travel and tourism industry towards a sustainable future, both for the industry and holiday destinations. With our partners, we demonstrate new ways for travel organisations to work that protect the environment and create opportunities for local people in destinations.
What does sustainable tourism mean to you?
It means working collaboratively and thinking long-term in order to find a balanced way of doing business where the negative impacts are minimised, and the benefits are shared by the travel industry, destinations and customers.
What is wrong with mainstream (or unsustainable) tourism?
Mainstream tourism can be sustainable if managed well, just as specialist or independent tourism can be damaging for destinations if not managed well. It’s not always about size: for instance, one large hotel may have a lower overall impact on the environment than many smaller-sized ones combined. However, companies handling more customers have more opportunities to make an impact on a destination – so we like to work with them to ensure it’s a positive one.
What more could be done to make holidaymakers aware of their sustainability footprint when travelling?
It’s important to make it easy for holidaymakers to make sustainable choices. This can be done to some degree by integrating sustainable practices into business as usual but holidaymakers also need to be part of the solution. Giving them a helpful nudge with simple communications that provide positive actions they can act on goes a long way.
Is it contradictory to fly on a sustainable holiday?
Like many other industries, tourism can be carbon-intensive but at the same time it has the potential to provide a vital role in economic development. So when flying is the only realistic means to get to a destination, that destination needs to ask: does tourism compare favourably to other economic activities available to us? Have we maximised the socio-economic and environmental benefits? And those who fly their customers around the world must come together and find ways to minimise their impact on climate change.
How do you tell between the tour operators genuinely committed to sustainable tourism and the ones who see it as good for their reputation?
I don’t think it matters why tour operators engage in sustainable tourism as long as it results in better business practices and lasting change. For many it will be about reputation, and that’s fine so long as it isn’t greenwash. For others it might be about reducing costs, or engaging staff, or creating a competitive advantage. Not necessarily about caring for the destination, but the results can be the same – greener, more ethical holidays that benefit local people and protect the environment.
What do you see of the future of sustainable tourism?
A tourism industry working in genuine partnership with holiday destinations as the only way to do business.
For the full agenda at RTD8 and more information on how to attend this essential event, see here. Spaces are limited so book now to avoid disappointment.