Creating Responsible Tourism Destinations
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The tourism sector has to become more sophisticated in analysing the costs and benefits of tourism to be truly responsible. If UK tourism is to continue to receive public support and funding, it must ‘pay the rent’ on the public realm that it utilises. Harold Goodwin, Professor of Responsible Tourism Management and Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism at Leeds Metropolitan University, states this case clearly and illustrates the approach Cape Town and New Zealand are taking towards taking true responsibility for their destinations. Goodwin believes the UK must follow suit in order to mitigate the costs associated with tourism and justify public expenditure.
It should not need reiterating, but it is not sufficient to define responsible tourism simply in environmental terms. Economic and social sustainability are equally important factors in creating a sustainable destination in which people live, work and visit.
In 1994, when the Chairman of British Airways, Sir Colin, now Lord Marshall, launched the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, he claimed that the travel and tourism industry ‘is essentially the renting out for short-term lets of other people’s environments’.
He went on to argue ‘that these products must be kept fresh and unsullied not just for the next day, but for every tomorrow.’ This quote has become the standard enlightened business self-interest quote: if we do not look after destinations, they will not be available for business in the future.
The ‘renting out for short-term lets’ analogy goes to the heart of the problem. Are tourist businesses paying an adequate rental for their use of the public realm – enough to ensure that tourism is undertaken in a responsible manner to the benefit of local communities?
This article argues that the tourism sector has to become more sophisticated in analysing the costs and benefits of tourism if it is to reach a point where it can be deemed to be truly responsible. The example New Zealand has set illustrates that if the tourism industry can do this, the benefits to the sector, and the country itself, will be considerable.
The tourism industry is defined by the process which it facilitates; the industry exists to provide services to people who have travelled to stay at least one night in someone else’s place, whether staying with friends and relatives, in serviced or non-serviced accommodation.
Tourism takes place in the destination where tourists mix and interact with those who live and work there. This difference between tourists and locals is perhaps best captured in the Tourism Concern campaign slogan, ‘we take our holidays in their homes’.
In any destination, residents and those who work there encounter tourists and day visitors. Tourists stay overnight in the place, while day visitors may travel from home or from overnight accommodation in another destination. This complexity has contributed to the increasing use of the concept of the visitor economy, which encompasses the value of both tourists and day visitors. For restaurants, cafes and attractions it does not matter whether someone is a resident, a tourist or a day visitor, as all are potential users of their services. For accommodation providers, the focus is more sharply on the tourist.
The concept of the visitor economy distinguishes between the spending of those who live and work in a place and those who are visiting, whether as overnight tourists or day visitors. Tourists and visitors are an additional temporary and transient market for the sale of local goods and services. What matters is that demand is buoyant. Tourism increases the size of the local market and is a considerable benefit to businesses which may gain from the visitor economy.
Tourists pay for some of the facilities and services which they use, particularly those provided by the private sector, but there are a host of services which benefit tourism that visitors do not contribute to.
Tourism imposes costs: visitors create congestion, cause various forms of degradation to the cultural and historic fabric of the destination and wear to local infrastructure. There are also costs associated with managing and cleaning up after visitors paid for by local government, museums, waterways, the environment agency and a host of other public agencies funded by tax and rate payers.
In using these local resources, the industry argues that costs are paid through their taxes, just like any other business. While this is correct up to a point, the tourism industry is more reliant than other industries on free access to a wide range of public goods and services. These are fundamental to the tourism experience but the industry makes no specific contribution for their maintenance. In essence, the industry collects the ‘rents’ from visitors but freeloads by not passing on some of this rent. The Lyons enquiry  sought to remedy this situation by recommending that local authorities be given the opportunity to experiment with some forms of local tourism taxation but government did not accept those recommendations.
The thought that tourism ‘freeloads’ in a destination may anger many in the industry but this is an issue that cannot be dealt with by denial. The tourism industry is not pollution-free. While it is true that the majority of the negative environmental impacts of tourism result from the journey to the destination, there are significant costs which fall on ratepayers living at the destination, many of whom will not benefit from tourism.
It can be counter-argued that other industries do not meet the full costs of their externalities either. While this is true, there is a significant difference between tourism and other industries in that tourism is a recipient of public funding. It is obviously advantageous that tourism secures public resources for marketing and promotion but it is not obvious to everyone that tourism ‘deserves’ public funding to support its marketing costs. The argument is based on a paradox – if tourism is one of the world’s biggest and most successful industries why does it need government assistance, nationally, locally and regionally, with its marketing? If the industry is so important, so big and powerful, why can it not pay its own way?
In many destinations the tourism officer’s role is simply to promote the destination online and offline in the hope of gaining more visitors. Public funds are being spent to attract visitors who bring costs to the public purse and the benefits are captured by a few local businesses.
This article does not argue that all destinations in the UK operate in this manner. However there is confusion about whether DMO means Destination Marketing Organisation or Destination Management Organisation. DMOs were established to ‘manage’ tourism and this management function should not be limited to marketing.
However, the view that tourist boards should concentrate on marketing, without taking responsibility for the impact of tourism, is expressed in the recent British Chambers of Commerce and Travelodge  report on the UK tourism industry. The report states that the UK tourism industry is not reaching its full potential and that it is slipping behind its international competitors. The industry, which, at the time of the report, employed 1.4 million people, was worth £86 billion, and was supported by £350 million per annum in public funding, is looking for further support from government to aid tourism promotion.
Grant Hearn, Chief Executive of Travelodge, is explicit in calling for urgent reform :
'Reforming the support structure in place for tourism will free the industry from its current constraints and allow it to flourish. It is one of the few sectors of the economy which is both currently creating employment opportunities and can contribute a lot more... Tourism should be removed from DCMS and the responsibility for delivery given to DBIS [Department for Business, Innovation and Skills]... freeing up VisitBritain to concentrate solely on promoting the UK abroad. If the Regional Development Agencies, domestic tourist bodies and local authorities then had to report directly into DBIS, I have no doubt we would see a far better use of the public money available for tourism promotion.'
The industry is seeking the support of government to pay for its marketing, while wanting the national tourist board to be free from any obligation to manage the tourism that it generates for the good of the nation as a whole.
Elsewhere in the report  the argument for maintaining tax breaks for second homes is advanced, but with no recognition of the negative social and economic impacts of holiday homes on local communities as local people are priced out and houses stand empty for much of the year.
These views do not represent a responsible approach to tourism development.
The industry nationally and locally needs to argue a much more nuanced and convincing case for the value of tourism. There is a good case to be made for the contribution of tourism in parts of the country suffering from deindustrialisation, for example:
- supplementing farm incomes
- creating opportunities which encourage young people to continue to live in remote rural areas
- maintaining valuable landscapes
- adding to the richness of the leisure economy in areas which could not sustain a range of restaurants, cafes and traditional pubs without visitors.
The argument needs to be made in a far more holistic way, and to focus on yield rather than turnover and arrivals numbers. The industry cannot reasonably expect to have its marketing costs subsidised and ignore the other costs assumed by the public purse. The agenda of government, at national, regional and local levels is not, and should not be, limited to subsidising the industry’s marketing.
In making tourism more responsible, it is no longer sufficient to define sustainability in purely environmental terms. Even back in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit the strapline was ‘Environment and Development’ and Agenda 21 addressed the triple bottom line of economic, environmental and social sustainability. Examples of organisations or companies who think that sustainability can be reduced to the environmental agenda are rare now; people in industry, government and most NGOs (non-government organisations including environmental and sustainability groups) now understand that the sustainability agenda has three pillars which are all important.
There is a strong case to be made for the contribution which tourism can make to the sustainable development of urban and rural areas and communities. That case needs to be made in ways that demonstrate the contribution which tourism makes to the places and the communities which endure the visitors. Responsible Tourism is most easily defined as being about creating ‘better places for people to live in and for people to visit.’ The order of those two aspirations is important; it answers the question about whose purposes should be served by tourism.
The 2002 Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism in Destinations  recognises that tourism can only be managed for sustainability at the destination level and ‘that responsible and sustainable tourism will be achieved in different ways in different places.’ Only at a local level can decisions be made about how tourism can best benefit local people and their environment.
Responsible tourism ‘makes positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage’ and ‘is culturally sensitive, engender[ing] respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.’ The guest experience is at the heart of the aspiration for Responsible Tourism which ‘provides more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people, and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.’
Following on from the Declaration, the city of Cape Town has developed a new Responsible Tourism Charter , which commits signatories to take responsibility for making tourism in Cape Town more sustainable. The hospitality industry, inbound tour operators and the city have committed to the development of responsible tourism policies and improvement plans which will contain measurable goals against which progress can be monitored and publicly reported.
The Charter commitment, which the major local business associations have signed on behalf of their members, applies to destination management. It is a commitment by the businesses to develop a plan for change based on common responsible tourism principles and to be held accountable both for the plan and the deliverables .
Destination management systems and destination improvement plans will be developed and implemented to facilitate and enforce responsible tourism practices. The city will use planning, regulation, procurement, leases and a ‘whole of government approach’ to manage tourism for sustainability – the roles and contribution of each council directorate are defined.
A detailed Responsible Tourism Policy for the City of Cape Town has been published  which outlines seven priority issues:
- water, energy and solid waste (with a particular focus on plastic water bottles)
- local and Black Economic Empowerment procurement
- enterprise development, skills development and social development.
Indicators have been developed for each of these priorities to enable standardised reporting. In Cape Town, these priorities have been identified by the City Council and agreed with the tourism industry. It is important to note that the tourism sector has not sought to identity their own priorities. Rather, it has accepted that the city’s priority issues need to be defined by the elected representative body, and not imposed by the tourism industry.
A good example of a national tourist board taking on the principles of responsible tourism is Tourism New Zealand. Their ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ campaign, which incorporates the principles, is now ten years old.
This year the UNWTO and the European Travel Commission (ETC) asked 165 NTOs what countries they considered to be good at destination branding . New Zealand came out top, ahead of India, Spain, Australia, Dubai and Ireland, with respondents citing the consistency and credibility of the 100% Pure New Zealand brand, and strong imagery as contributing to the instant recognition of the brand and the strong positioning statement. George Hickton, the CEO of Tourism New Zealand, commented that:
'…the result recognised the efforts of the tourism industry over the past ten years in supporting the campaign and delivering on the promises made through ‘100% Pure New Zealand.'
New Zealand realised that a successful brand is more than just a logo and advertising. As Hickton pointed out 
, ‘the efforts of the tourism industry to deliver quality, innovative products and to reflect the values of the brand in their own work has been critical to its success.’
Tourism New Zealand also won the Destination and Global Awards in the 2008 Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards because they had successfully harnessed their national brand and marketing campaign to support the development of a sustainable industry in New Zealand . Their market research demonstrated that overseas travellers were looking for landscape, adventure, people and cultures. By targeting the kinds of visitors likely to enjoy New Zealand, and working to ensure product quality (for example, New Zealand was the first country to successfully include the environmental dimension in its accommodation grading scheme), it has earned very high approval (90%) and recommendation (97%) scores from visitors .
This responsible tourism strategy has been applied consistently for ten years. The new prime minister has kept the tourism portfolio for himself, in recognition of the importance of the tourism brand to the country and the need to balance benefits and costs. As a result, the tourism industry in New Zealand has been recognised for what it contributes to the national economy and to society. It does not have to plead its case for public funding. In taking a responsible approach, in which costs are minimised and the benefits maximised, the case has been made.
In the UK, the tourism sector is continually frustrated that the government does not take it seriously and provide the level of resourcing that it feels is necessary to ensure that the country maintains its international competitiveness. This article argues that, while the industry continues to seek public funding without acknowledging responsibility for the public negatives associated with increased tourism, this situation will continue. It is only by facing up to this issue, and developing holistic tourism strategies that seek to maximise public yield, that the government will see the real benefit from tourism and provide the investment that is required.
In too many parts of the UK a reductive strategy has been adopted. Initiatives on sustainable tourism are largely limited to labelling and certification schemes, where public funding has been used to encourage local business to be certified. The bigger initiatives – the development of new galleries, museums and public spaces, festivals, pedestrianisation and park and ride, cycle tracks and local food – have often benefited tourism. But these initiatives have been designed to make better places for people to live in; tourism may have been part of the justification but it was generally not the primary driver.
Tourism New Zealand has shown what can be achieved by developing a tourism strategy that is truly responsible in its outlook. It is hoped that the new leadership in VisitEngland will deliver a similar strategy – the industry needs more than promotion, the industry needs to define and fulfil a purpose which is more than mere growth. Will it take responsibility?
More information on this subject can be found in Part 2A of the Destination Manager's Toolkit, Sustainable Destination Management. It describes the VICE model for sustainable destination management which involves creating a balance between the competing needs and demands of the visitor, industry, community and environment to achieve sustainability.
Harold Goodwin is Professor of Responsible Tourism Management and Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism at Leeds Metropolitan University. Harold researches on tourism, local economic development and poverty reduction, conservation and responsible tourism and teaches Masters and PhD students as well as the industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists. Harold also undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is adviser to World Travel Market on their World Responsible Tourism Day and is currently working with Oman to develop a national responsible tourism policy and strategy.