The 2016 responsible tourism programme opened with a public ‘Conversation’ on How to Enhance the Guest Experience in India. A new format for this year, these Responsible Tourism Conversations have no prepared speeches or presentations, instead providing an extended time for anyone with an interest in the topic to discuss what works and what doesn’t with those with shared passions and experiences. Attendees at this first session ranged from Indian government and civil society representatives, to international responsible tour operators including Village Ways, Explore and Intrepid.
The session was opened by Vinod Zutshi, Secretary of Tourism for India, who laid out how responsible tourism is being embedded in his country’s offical tourism policies. “We have to study the carrying capacity of destinations and ensure there is not too much tourism for a destination to bear.” he explained, adding that India is also looking at adopting the principle of polluter pays for the industry.
Rupesh Kumar, State Responsible Tourism Field Coordinator for Kerala, said villages looking to develop community-based tourism – and the companies that work with them – should be focussing on showcasing activites that are the core part of the villagers’ livelihoods – such as farming – rather than “adding on dedicated and additional tourism experiences such as tiger tours and elephant tourism.”
His comments were supported by Richard Hearn from Village Ways. “Our guests are very quick to spot anything that is put on for a show,” said Richard. “The reason for them going is to experience village life, and the most common expression of satisfaction they give is privilege.”
Addressing the question of how one can ‘prove’ this authenticity and responsibility, Andy Rutherford from Fresh Eyes – People to People Travel said his company was now providing totally transparent pricing so everyone knows what people are being paid for their services, whether they are a DMC, guide or taxi driver. “The argument for doing responsible tourism has been wom with many people,” he said. “Our guests are now demanding that we prove the sustainability we claim.”
Glynn O’Leary from Transfrontier Parks Southern Africa also reflected on the challenges of authenticity and meeting consumer expectations, asking: “How do we explain to guests wanting to see how Bushmen lived 100 years ago explain that they have arrived 100 years too late?” Closing the session, WTM Responsible Tourism Co-ordinator Harold Goodwin summed up the many contributions saying: “If we can get rebellious tourists and rebellious locals to work together, then we will get the development of a truly sustainable tourism.”
Later on Monday it was once again standing room only at a discussion on Disintermediation and Destination Management in the Travel Tech Theatre.
“I think the classic package holiday is a thing of the past,” said Garry Wilson, Managing Director, Product and Purchasing at TUI Group, adding that what was most interesting for companies like TUI is the way in which Airbnb and new players are interacting with the customer. “There is a very holistic approach in terms of talking to other customers, to hosts and to other people in destinations as they make their mind up,” he added.
“How do these universal platforms adapt to the different realities of different cities and DMOs,” asked Jordi William Carnes, General Manager of Turisme de Barcelona. “London is a different reality from Copenhagen or Paris or Barcelona. The sharing economy is all right. Sharing the benefits would be better.”
Anja Hartung Sfyrla, Head of Business Development, VisitDenmark said that the country was working well with the likes of Airbnb and other home sharing platforms, explaining that not only had the country put in place legislation in terms of how long people can rent out their accommodation, it was also putting in place a new government policy on home sharing websites.
Nikki White Wright, Director of Destinations and Sustainability at ABTA, said as an industry body “it is all very well have frameworks, but how will we enforce them?” and that ABTA wants to see a level playing field for all involved stakeholders. James McClure, UK & Ireland General Manager, Airbnb, replied that rather than a level playing field, the industry should have a “proportional playing field” so that someone who only rents out a room for a certain number of nights a year has to meet a “proportionate amount of legislation” compared to someone who runs a B&B for 365 days a year.
The discussion concluded by looking at issues around overcrowding. “People will go where they want to go,” said Barcelona’s Jordi Carne. “But we can set up initatives to encourage people to see new neighbourhoods.” Airbnb’s James Mclure added that research his company had undertaken this year found that 50% of people would rather go to the dentist than experience overcrowded destinations or experiences with excessively long queues. Garry Wilson from TUI said when assessing new destinations they look to ensure a maximum amount of positive impact with a minimum disruption, citing the hotel schools they have set up in Morocco and the Taste of Fethiye project supporting local farmers to supply all inclusive hotels in Turkey. ‘For us the sharing economy is about looking at how widely we can share the benefits of us running tourism in their destinations,” he said.