Articles

MHCi MONTHLY FEATURE:

November 2004

Happy Holidays Forever - Responsibility on the move

Ivor Hopkins

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen

At this increasingly gray time of year, buy as winter deepens over the north, many of us turn our thoughts to a warm and sunny vacation, and begin to prepare our next flight of fancy and check out those 'realms of gold' in brochures or on holiday web-sites. Travel for travel's sake is no longer seen as the preserve of the rich, as a luxury, as it was in Keats' day (quoted above): indeed, travel for pleasure and tourism is seen as a necessity, as an antidote to the pressures of increasingly stressed lives.

Happy Holidays Forever?

Travel and tourism is the world's largest industry: in 2000, 698 million individuals travelled to another country and it is estimated that that number will reach one billion in 2010.

This movement of persons has both a global and a local impact. Globally, flying is adding to the problem of climate change and viruses are spread quicker than ever; locally, the economic (at its worst sex tourism) and environmental (ecosystem destruction) impact of tourists in the most beautiful places on the planet is not sustainable. Happy Holidays are definitely not forever, unless we all take action.

This Monthly Feature, though, is not crying 'Humbug!' nor rattling its chains of gloom to spoil your Happy Holiday festivities with feelings of guilt or powerlessness. Happy Holidays Forever is to give you some guidelines for choosing your next vacation so that what is good for you, will also be also good for your chosen destination, for the people offering you their services and for the environment in which you are allowed to play.

Questions and answers

If tourism is unsustainable, then what can we actively do to make it sustainable, to make sure for succeeding generations that the beauty and magic of travel destinations are not destroyed and to ensure that the people visited by tourism are able to gain and thrive from its bounty?

Q1: What do you mean by the sustainability of tourism?

A good definition of Sustainable Tourism (ST) can be found on the World Tourism Organization's website:

Sustainable tourism development guidelines and management practices are applicable to all forms of tourism in all types of destinations, including mass tourism and the various niche tourism segments. Sustainability principles refer to the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development, and a suitable balance must be established between these three dimensions to guarantee its long-term sustainability.

The succinct phrase "Leave a footprint, take a 'photo" neatly encapsulates the eco-tourism side of ST, but is not all encompassing. In some societies, for example, it is inappropriate to photograph a person without first asking for their permission.

Q2: If tourism is so bad for the planet then we should all stay at home, right?

Despite being a logical view , this would be a narrow one as we gain a lot of pleasure from the new experiences of those "goodly states and kingdoms" beyond our shores. Yet those of us who have the luxury of vacations also have the choice of whether to travel away or stay put. In this age of extraordinary mobility, it is an interesting conundrum that most of us do not really know our local areas or even our own country that well. It frequently takes a foreign visitor to make you see your own area in a different light: whilst I used to view the Romney Marshes local to where I live as a boring expanse on the way to Dover, German friends love the stark, empty beauty and are fascinated by the area's rich history. In a stiff, icy Northerly, it is hard to believe that rural depopulation here in the Middle Ages was caused by malaria!

Even hitting the road is becoming less attractive than it used to be: the volume of traffic in the UK has increased by 14% since 1995 so the joy of the open road is slowly becoming a marketing myth. Certainly there are national alternatives but if you mention rail travel in the UK (the topic that all Brits love to hate) any response is usually a recent tale of woe, especially if that person is a commuter. Still, if you are not in Rush Hour mode and would prefer to enjoy the view or catch up on your reading, then the old BR slogan "Let the train take the strain" really runs true. Plus there is the bonus of the fact that a train uses half as much energy per traveller as a plane.

Further, if you must leave these shores - flying low on Eurostar preferably - then in my experience, the trains in mainland Europe are a delight, especially if you are travelling inter-city. Waking up in Milan on the Sleeper from Munich to one of the best cappuccinos I have ever tasted, refreshed and raring to go with luggage and temper in tact was a true epiphany!

No, you don't have to stay at home to do your bit for the environment but consider an alternative type of holiday: 10 days on the beach in Spain may be very appealing but don't automatically strike walking in the Purbeck's from your wish list - it is still an alternative beach holiday.

Q3: I have to fly: is there anything that I can do to offset the pollution caused by air travel?

If flying is your chosen or essential transport of delight then there are two things that you can do to limit the impact of air pollution. The first is to check out the airlines that fly to your chosen destination: do they have an environmental or socially responsible policy? Do they publicise their actions such as this cost saving but also environmentally friendly action reported in BEST, "Delta Airlines, for example, has instituted single engine taxiing which reduces fuel usage by 40 million gallons ".

The second is to make a donation to a carbon neutral organisation. Carbon dioxide is the gas that is responsible for the greenhouse effect of our atmosphere so your donation will be based upon the estimated carbon dioxide emissions of your return flight .

Your donation will be used either in planting trees or in using 'green' energy in developing countries that will offset, or neutralise, this CO2 production.

Q4: I want to travel in a responsible manner but I have not got the time to do all the organisation - what do I do?

The most direct route is to go to associations who are involved in and promote ST. The Association of Independent Tour Operators (www.aito.co.uk) gives information and web links over a large group of independents who offer vacations that cater for everyone from the adrenalin junkie to the sedentary connoisseur. Although the depth of ST involvement in each of their member companies does vary, the AITO makes an annual award to its members and this gives an easy overview.

The Federation of Tour Operators is a group of companies who deal with all inclusive packages (www.fto.co.uk): given the damage that all-inclusive package holidays have done in the past, it is excellent that organisations with clout are involved in ST.

Q5. Is there anything that I can do to make an impact on ST?

Just as you make a pre-vacation list to do your packing, you can do the same to plan your actions with Sustainable Tourism. Here is a list of actions, based upon the Traveller's Code for Responsible Tourism: Guidelines for Individuals

1. Cultural Understanding

· Travel with an open mind: cultivate habits of listening and observing; discover the enrichment that comes from experiencing another way of life.

· Prepare: learn the geography, culture, history, beliefs, some local language; know how to be a good guest in the country or culture.

2. Social Impacts

· Support the local economy by using locally-owned restaurants and hotels, buying local products made by locals from renewable resources

· Seek out excursions made by the local or indigenous people

· Interact with local residents in a culturally appropriate manner

· Don't make an extravagant display of wealth; don't encourage children to beg

· Get permission before photographing people, homes and other sites of local importance

3. Environmental Impacts

· Reduce, re-use, re-cycle - use electronic tickets; re-use water bottles and avoid styrofoam cups!

· Pack it in, pack it out;

· Don't buy products made from endangered animals or plants;

· Become aware of and contribute to projects benefiting local environments and communities (this is a social benefit as well!)

· Reduce water consumption by opting out of frequent towel and bed-linen changes

· Use public transport whenever safely possible

· If renting a car, try to find low-fuel consumption or hybrid fuel engined vehicles

· Offset your carbon dioxide emissions

· Select hotels or resorts that emphasise the destination's distinct character and which have an environmental programme.

· Complete the hotel's questionnaire and give suggestions on how they might improve their environmental practices.

Happy Holidays Forever

Happy Holidays Forever has been a whistle-stop tour of the major issues that you should consider when musing on your next vacation. All of us can make choices - however small they may seem - that will make a difference: indeed, investigating a destination thoroughly will add much value to your holiday experience. Even taking the trouble to learn a few basic phrases in the language of your destination as well as making yourself aware of some of the local customs will help break down the 'Them and Us' barriers. This will add positively to the experience of both Host and Guest (if you would like to see how good your knowledge of local customs is, check out the 20 questions on our MHC International Ltd website: www.mhcinternational.com Why not download to test on your guests over the Holidays?).

This Monthly Feature is intended to spread a little goodwill to all men and all women and its success will be measured in how you take up the suggestions made above. Sustainable Tourism should definitely be high on your New Year's Resolutions' list: you don't want to be a real turkey when travelling, do you?

So, Happy Holidays Forever in whatever 'realms of gold' you choose.

[Contributed by UK based Ivor Hopkins who advises leading companies on CSR and Sustainable Tourism]

 


Keats, Sonnet, On First Looking into Chapman's Homer (1817)

Michael Seltzer, Director, Business Enterprises for Sustainable Travel, www.sustainabletravel.org/traveler/news_02

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)

Michael Seltzer, ibid

www.futureforests.com

Partners in Responsible Tourism www.pirt.org/pirt/travelcode