The day opened with a session on Captivity, Wildlife and Tourism. Dylan Walker, CEO of the World Cetacean Alliance, said that thanks to the growing demand for wild whale watching tourism, the commercial advantages of keeping these animals alive far outweighs their economic value as meat. Looking further at a wide range of animals from tigers to dolphins and great apes, he added: “Tourism has a huge responsibility of saving species from extinction. We might not be ready, but we have the opportunity.”
David Nash from Campaign Against Canned Hunting explained how tourism directly subsidised this industry, whether volunteering at lion farms, petting lion cubs or walking with cubs. “Tourism is critical to SA’s economy,” he explained, “So image matters. We have to challenge the marketing that says these practices are good for conservation, that the cubs are orphans, or that they are well treated or released.”
Opening a session on Destination and Place Management, WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor Harold Goodwin said that: “Overtourism is very much the issue of the moment”, asking for a show of hands to see who was there from destinations. When just a handful of hands went up, he added: “the challenge is that people from destinations are downstairs selling, while those upstairs discussing the issues are from other parts of the industry.”
Joan Torrella, Tourism Director in Barcelona City Council showed how the city has developed strategies to decentralise tourists away from key hotspots into wider areas of the city. He added that the growth of accommodation such as Airbnb has created new challenges, with less than half of tourists to the city now staying in hotels. He explained how the city administration has stopped licenses for new accommodation, and launched an emergency enforcement plan in July to stamp out illegal flats. “We’re determined to remain an open city,” he said, “but we have to explore how to be a leading example of managing tourism that makes Barcelona a better place to in and a better place to visit.”
An example of successful destination management was then presented – Bonito, a region of Brazil – where tourism is responsible for 50% of jobs, with 205,000 visitors in 2015, bringing in $US100 million. Management of tourism development is participative, with representatives of environmental, local government and tourism sectors, as well as local people collaborating on decisions as to how the region develops. “In Bonito each natural attraction has a daily limit on the number of visitors,” explained Marcos Dias Soares, president of Bonito’s tourism board. “And that is part of the environmental license that all attractions in the region must have to operate.”
“Its not just cities that are suffering from overtourism,” added Caroline Warburton, National Tourism Strategy Coordinator, Scottish Tourism Alliance, explaining that the common perception is that, with the exception of Edinburgh, overtourism would not be an issue in Scotland. She gave the example of the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye, which have been used in recent marketing promotions. The number of visitors has gone from 10,000 to 80,000 in a year, impacting on everything from the quality of the road to residents’ quality of life. “The question is, whose responsibility is it to address this issue?” she asked.
Michael Horton, Chairman and Founder, ConCERT Cambodia, opened a discussion on communicating responsible tourism, talking about the paradoxes of raising awareness about the problems with voluntourism. He said that efforts to raise awareness have had such impact in recent years that in some cases an oversimplified message has been presented and there is now a danger that good quality community based projects are suffering by association and won’t receive the support they need to continue their work.
“One of the common messages people hear is that short term volunteering is bad and long term volunteering is the solution,” he said. “Yet this ignores fact that if a volunteer placement is of itself bad, then being long term only makes it worse. Or that there are forms of volunteering that are perfectly suited to being done on a short term basis.”
Tim Williamson, Director, ResponsibleTravel.com, said communicating responsible tourism is in part about honesty, openness to issues and a focus on how to make a difference, but also it has to be about offering inspiration. He said that despite his company’s website getting 300,000 visits a month, only 10% of those came looking for sustainable travel. His suggestion to those trying to promote responsible tourism was that: “we need to sell on trust, rather than create a false world of paradise and assume the customer will believe us. In our age of communication that is no longer true.”
Professor Xavier Font from University of Surrey said that destinations looking to present themselves as sustainable have to show real commitment and not just pay lip service. “Until government is prepared to lead on its purchasing decisions, why should it expect others to do the same,” he said. In addition, he said he was tired of destinations complaining about issues with seasonality yet still producing promotional websites that only have people wearing bikinis and shorts. “You are basically giving out the message to visitors to only come in summer,” he said.