Catherine Mack on responsible tourism: THE WORLD Travel Market takes place in London every November where, for four days, thousands of tourism heads gather to sell their wares.
It is a monstrous event with worldwide destinations boasting new brands, hotels, new spas and tour operators’ new must-dos before you die. I go every year, and each time I start off depressed, and leave feeling slightly more optimistic that there is a little beauty to be found in the beast after all.
This is usually thanks to the Responsible Tourism Awards which, since 2004, have dedicated one day of the event to applaud people from all over the world who have worked towards keeping the impact of tourism in ethical surplus rather than in total “don’t give a damn” deficit.
There are several winners out there this year which should be saved to your wanderlust wishlist, however 2010’s awards do sway somewhat towards long haul, carbon-heavy and large-walleted travellers.
Costa Rica won two awards: Best Accommodation for Local Communities went to the Hotel Punta Islita because it is fully Costa Rican owned, and 52 per cent of its income stays in the local community. Which does make you think, shouldn’t this just be the norm?
In the Best Accommodation for the Environment category, you have to follow the carbon trail all the way to Jamaica, I’m afraid. Here, Hotel Mocking Bird Hill is the one to go for, not only because it is stunning, but also because it will do its utmost to offset some of your guilt by running a brilliantly green and gorgeous hotel (hotelmockingbirdhill.com). This doesn’t just mean that they installed the most expensive low-energy light bulbs – they have a chlorine-free pool run on renewable energy, solar energy, rainwater harvesting, and use only local, seasonal produce.
Diving is a contentious issue in tourism, so it is great to see a diving company, Matava, in Fiji, winning Best in a Marine Environment. This is a place of honeymoons and heavenly diving, and so its “look but don’t touch” diving policy is impressive.
This is put into practice not only by creating awareness among guests, but by actually banning them from diving if they break the rules. All staff and guides are from local villages, and they have worked with local communities to designate three marine reserves, and also pushed to have marine conservation added to the Fijian national curriculum.
One of my personal favourites was the winner of Best for Low Carbon Transport, won by seat61.com. Set up by self-confessed rail geek, Mark Smith, it tells you how to travel just about everywhere in the world by train (although Fiji, Costa Rica and Jamaica are off his radar).
The overall winner at the awards this year is one which describes itself as wanting to “prove by example that tourism can be an important component in the global war on poverty”. Nihiwatu, a resort on the Indonesian island of Sumba, has created The Sumba Foundation, so that guests can contribute funds towards breaking poverty cycles on the island. As a result, more than 20,000 people benefit from $400,000 (€295,000) donated by guests every year. Providing water and preventing disease are priorities and, consequently, malaria has been reduced by 85 per cent, five clinics have been set up, 14 primary schools opened, and the island now has clean water.
World Travel Market chairman, Fiona Jeffery, summed up the awards, saying: “There are many brilliant examples of work being carried out by the industry but still there’s the incessant drone of gradual eradication, erosion, damage, exploitation, pollution and inappropriate infrastructure.”
Sadly, I can still hear the drone throughout much of the exhibition, where the responsible tourism applause is left unheard by those whose only task is to attain targets and sign deals. Whatever the cost.