Tourism “business as usual” is Broken: Reflections on the Global Tourism Industry

ethical issues with tourism

By Cynthia Ord, Tourism and Development Online Course Instructor

Tues Nov 8 is an important date for Americans – the federal election will determine our new president. Meanwhile, across the pond in London, it’s also a big day for the global tourism community. Nov 8 will mark the 10th annual World Responsible Tourism Day, celebrated as part of World Travel Market (WTM), one of the biggest annual trade shows of the industry.

At face value, the WTM trade show looks a lot like “business as usual”. In a huge conference center, reps from big-name travel brands network with public tourism boards and deep-pocketed destination marketing organizations (DMOs, in travel-speak). Execs strike deals. Thought leaders deliver keynotes. PR agents pitch puff pieces to the travel media elite. Costumed “Mayans” from the Guatemala booth and “Carnival” dancers from the Brazil booth parade around the corporate suits in a charade of authenticity.

But tourism “business as usual” is broken.

Only a fraction of tourism dollars reach the destinations themselves. The quality of service jobs created for locals is low. Overcrowding degrades the travel experience. Tension flares up between hosts and visitors. Biodiversity suffers. Climate change alters destinations. These are just few of the challenges we face as the runaway global travel industry speeds up to 2 billion annual tourists spending $2 trillion yearly by 2030.¹

Take a deeper look at the WTM and, fortunately, you’ll also find a group that faces these challenges head-on. They organize the Responsible Tourism Day events. I’ll be spending Nov 8 at the WTM learning and celebrating on that bright side of the trade show. Here are a few highlights from the World Responsible Tourism Day schedule that I’m looking forward to:

Responsible Tourism Awards
Out of 13 finalists, five awards will be granted for the following categories:
Best accommodation for responsible employment
Best contribution to wildlife conservation
Best innovation by a tour operator
Best for poverty reduction and inclusion
Best responsible tourism campaign
An overall winner will also be announced.

I’ve spent countless consulting hours this past year researching all the different responsible tourism awards schemes out there, and the WTM award is arguably the most illustrious and competitive. This is one election whose candidates I can really get excited about. Sure to be a glamorous affair!

Keynote Speaker Doug Lansky
Doug Lansky, travel writer, tourism industry advisor, and author of the thought-provoking new visual book TRAVEL: The Guide, takes us on a journey to find the Holy Grail of tourism: sustainable, profitable, and authentic travel.

Captivity, Wildlife and Tourism
Over the last year increasing concern has been expressed about the use of wildlife in tourism with campaigns focused on elephants, lions and orcas. Three panelists will consider these campaigns and reflect on how successful they have been.

This topic is near to my heart, as I spent several months in Thailand this past year examining the thorny issue of elephants in tourism. I compiled a guidebook on the subject called Elephants in Asia, Ethically: Humane Experiences with Asia’s Sacred Animal. Several of my collaborators on the book will be presenting at this discussion panel.

Other panel discussions on the Responsible Tourism agenda include:

  • Responsibility and resilience: how can tourism be more resilient?
  • Human rights in tourism
  • Responsible “better” volunteering
  • Disintermediation and destination management
  • Communicating responsible tourism: advocacy and marketing
  • Enhancing the tourist experience in Africa
  • Climate change and tourism

These are the issues that face local communities in the destinations that, as travelers, we often either love to death or fail to consider. It will be a busy few days for me at the WTM, and I’ll be thrilled to pass on my new knowledge and insights as instructor of the course Tourism and Development. Now enrolling through November 1.

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