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Responsible Tourism: The Way Forward

The pandemic has brought the responsible tourism in focus once again. The UN has been advocating about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) but COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of adoption of sustainable and responsible tourism. Tourism has the potential to contribute, directly or indirectly, to all of the goals.

Responsible tourism implies that all stakeholders involved in tourism take responsibility for their actions. Tourists have the potential to contribute to economic, environmental socio-cultural, and institutional sustainability. It is about the role suppliers and tourists play in minimising the negative impact of tourism and on optimising benefits for local communities and environments. Travelling with a lighter footprint, which addresses the needs of the host communities, visitors, tourism industry stakeholders along with the environment is the way for responsible tourism.

Travelling in such a manner, which brings about a positive impact, protection, preservation and respect for our cultural and natural assets. Responsible Tourism herds this together ensuring that all tourism stakeholders such as tour operators, travel agents, hoteliers, central and state governments, local people, and tourists take responsibility to make tourism sustainable.

In another word, any travel operation and hospitality project that strives to create a positive impact on the community, treads softly on the environment and strives to uphold the pristine quality of the destination by being conscious of the environment, social and cultural damage that can be caused is responsible.

It differs from the concept of sustainable tourism by focusing on the responsibility of stakeholders, through proper actions and practices, resulting in responsible behaviour, responsible tourists are required to respect the local community, the local culture and its traditions, while informing themselves about religion and customs. Experts believe that the pandemic will introduce new acceptance levels for perceived crowding, as the COVID-19 pandemic has induced unprecedented levels of anxiety, panic, and fear associated with close human contact.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, said, “Sustainability must no longer be a niche part of tourism but must be the new norm for every part of our sector. This is one of the central elements of our Global Guidelines to Restart Tourism. It is in our hands to transform tourism and that emerging from COVID-19 becomes a turning point for sustainability.”

Current scenario

Responsible Tourism ideology began with the Cape Town Declaration in 2002 with an intention to develop guidelines to ensure the social, economic, and environmental protection of places where tourists visit. “The words ‘Responsible Tourism’ still are kind of new to many sections in the travel trade and visible actions can definitely be seen as more and more sensitisation and awareness campaigns take place,” Tejbir Singh Anand, Founder & Managing Director, Holiday Mood Adventures, says.

Shoba Mohan, Founder, RARE India, feels that while there is amazing individual work as hotels and tour companies, this is surely not enough. “Most importantly, travel design is still geared to what the traveller wants to do; true change and transformation will happen only when we can advise travellers on what is possible and what is not because our commitment is first to the planet and the community,” Mohan adds.

Suhail Kannampilly, CEO, The Fern Hotels & Resorts, opines that today more and more groups are becoming environmentally conscious and responsible, offering great experiences to tourists and guests who choose to visit and stay at places in and around India. “Right from the local product used to build the property to the initiatives practiced by the staff on the job, there is a lot that is happening and impacting the local environment,” Kannampilly adds.

Anand also feels the same. “From the tourism stakeholders' outlook, a lot of operators are preferring to buy local products closer to their operations, carefully looking at their carbon footprints generated, promoting local restaurants, avoiding the use of single use plastics, printing unnecessary paper and saving water and electricity whenever possible. Operators are partnering with local communities ensuring that they get their living from tourism, training local teenagers as guides with a sense of pride to showcase their cultural assets and stories,” Anand says.

Sanjay Kumar, Chief Strategy and Revenue Officer, IndiGo, says that responsible tourism now is not only about a reduced carbon footprint or using sustainable products. “Today it is about safe tourism, encompassing preventive measures that every business is taking to protect its customers and employees from COVID-19. Moreover, safety has now become a collective responsibility, wherein everyone is taking precautionary measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. Starting from the government to the employees, our competitors to our passengers, we all are together in this fight against the pandemic,” Kumar adds.

So, what is needed to encourage the practice of responsible tourism? Mohan opines that ‘intent, knowledge and enforcement on a revolutionary scale’ is needed to implement the practices of responsible tourism. Without this, it will take a long time by which it may be too late, she says adding that there is a need for large scale policies that check on tourism activities beginning with carrying capacities. “We also need strong regulations by the industry with a design powered by innovation and understanding of what we stand to lose, i.e. our very identity as a destination. Service providers and hotels need to create awareness and build products which transform and educate. Finally, we need travellers who have their ears to the ground and are aware of the perils of unchecked tourism and irresponsible behaviour,” Mohan opines.

Anand says that creating and regular updating of policies, guidelines, awareness campaigns and forging linkages is where the industry and state governments can make the big difference. Forging community linkages can be achieved through integrated development and livelihood promotion, Anand feels.

Pandemic impact

Everyone agrees that the pandemic has triggered the pace of adoption of responsible tourism causing tourists to behave more responsibly. Already people are talking about "less is more". They are talking about responsibilities towards nature which were less heard of. Revived nature is an attraction now: clean potable water of River Ganga in Haridwar, bright blue sky and stars at night, view of Dhauladhar Himalayas from Jalandhar, Uttarakhand Himalayas from Saharanpur and Nepal Himalayas from Bihar, Rhinos and elephants walking freely in the buffer zone roads in North East; all these are great inspirations for a traveller and mankind,” Anand informs and adds that corporate CFOs are avoiding all business travel helping save hotel and flight expenses. “High end cars are not needed anymore and Innova & Swift Dzire are good enough. These are responsible and sustainable changes that are happening everywhere,” Anand says.

Mohan, being candid, says, “Let’s just say there is greater awareness, but people usually opt for what is convenient. The huge garbage load we see today is the result of laziness, convenience and visual gratification. No one is thinking, as we go with what the market feeds us through advertising and promotions worsened with the whole ‘quantum marketing’ game, luxury is excess, and every product and service plays into this.”

Kumar says that safety and hygiene will be the top priority whenever people are travelling. “It is important that travellers retain their trust in air travel, which will not only strengthen passenger traffic over time but also promote trade and tourism through mobility,” Kumar adds. Kannampilly also opines the same. “Tourists are now more cautious of the surroundings on where they tread on where sanitisation and hygiene have become a priority in today's scenario with rising covid cases every day,” he adds.

Elaborating the impact further, Anand says that it will definitely be a different world post Covid. “Safety will be the prime focus now. Clients will now look for certified and licensed travel agencies. Responsible tourism has come as a blessing in disguise. Travellers will certainly show interest in responsible, conscious and transformative ways of travel. All tourism stakeholders need to understand that to meet such a demand, they need to start preparing as of yesterday with suitable guidelines and protocols. The traveller and the stakeholders, both need to embrace and promote transformational, conscious and responsible tourism. Companies which talk about and can show that they are practicing offsetting of carbon footprint, waste minimization, increasing their conservation and efficiency efforts, promoting local recruitment hence empowering regional economies involving communities and benefiting them, will become popular and sought after. Companies who talk about & practice new SOP's aligned with social distancing & safety rules will be preferred. Mass tourism will be replaced by responsible tourism. It is well said that every dark cloud has a silver lining, and we should never waste a good crisis,” Anand adds.

Traveller’s role

One begins with being a responsible world citizen and being aware of what the world is facing today, then it is easy, isn’t it?, Mohan quips. She feels that when the demand from the travellers is for conscious and sensitive tourism products, hotels and design, there will be a revolution.

Anand feels that tourists can be a great catalyst and can start a revolution. “Demanding for more sustainable tourism practices and responsible behaviour by the travellers can greatly influence the Industry to adopt sustainability in their businesses. Responsible travellers can contribute and benefit by asking tourism suppliers for unique native experiences that could create engaging stories for social media content creating huge real time awareness,” Anand adds.

Replying to a question that responsible tourists perceive that the supply side should give more focus on responsible tourism, Mohan says, “While I agree with this, the demand should also ensure that more and more organisations are incentivised and nudged towards improving their services and products. For a long time, we have seen that innovation in tourism has happened through research when travellers ask for better service, milder activities as well as immersive experiences and asked the relevant questions.”

Anand advocates for adoption of safety guidelines and be ready and empowered for responsible clients' arrivals. “Educate your clients about guidelines pertaining to air travel, accommodation and all activity related measures. There must be a clear line of communication set for all how to live, travel and sustain responsibly. It’s time that the travel companies start conducting their businesses responsibly and sustainably as clients are asking for certifications and safety pledges now. Experiential and adventurous trips are on the demand. Using ‘green’ fuel-efficient transport that is safe, reliable, and feasible is being asked for. Activities such as cycling, hiking, and walking are being prioritised. I wish that all stakeholders in Indian tourism imbibe similar ethos and understand that anything which is not sustainable, will not live for very long and initiatives that lack responsibility will not grow at all,” he suggests.

Pandemic induced initiatives

Kumar informs that IndiGo kickstarted started its ‘Lean, Clean Flying Machine’ campaign after the lockdown to educate passengers about the steps taken for their safety with contactless travel and always ensuring social distancing. The programme has been instrumental in promoting a COVID-safe and hygienic travel experience onboard IndiGo. “Along with this, we also launched ‘Tough Cookie’ campaign on the occasion of National Doctor's Day to express gratitude towards the tireless commitment and service being given by the medical fraternity to the nation and humanity. The aviation industry will continue to adapt and innovate in 2021 including shifting towards digital platforms for good, adapting to newer technologies and inventions that make travel experience safe and hassle-free and reinvigorating the travel demand. The return of tourism demand requires that travelers and tourism-sector employees feel—and are—safe,” Kumar says.

Rare India, which has been propagating for ‘conscious luxury travel’ has shifted their business strategies to move more and more in the direction of conscious travel since beginning. “From spotlighting various initiatives of our hotels and making it a centre story, looking for various community, cultural and nature-oriented perspectives and creating narratives around them and finally creating a simple code around this which we call as the RARE Touchstones which we use as an audit measure and also for hotels to audit themselves. We are focused on promoting the idea that luxury is a conscious shift away from excesses to a more mindful and participative tourism design,” Mohan informs.

Kannampilly informs that the Fern Hotels & Resorts ensures to safeguard natural resources on which their very sustenance is dependent and promote sustainable growth for all stakeholders. “We are of the firm belief that conservation of the environment is an important value for our future generations. Hence, several years ago, we envisioned the integration of this ethos with the Fern brand. Our hotels adopt and implement initiatives in five different spheres of environmentalism - Sustainability Commitment, Water Management, Energy Management, Waste Management, Employee Education and Community Involvement,” he adds.

Holiday Moods Adventures has adopted industry safety guidelines and is ready for its clients, patrons and even staff. “We are geared up to educate our clients about guidelines pertaining to air travel, accommodation and all activity related measures. There is a clear communication set for all how to live, travel and sustain responsibly, “Anand says.

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